Episode #68: Let’s Send Our Homework into Space (transcript)


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Quinn:                                  Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.

Brian:                                    And I'm Brian Colbert Kennedy. And this is the podcast where we dive into a specific topic or question affecting everyone on the planet right now or in the next ten years or so, if it can kill us or bring us the food replicator from Star Trek, we're in. Our guests are scientists, doctors, engineers, politicians, astronauts, we had a Reverend, and more. And we work together toward action steps that our listeners can take with their voice, their vote, and their dollar.

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Brian:                                    This week's episode is-

Quinn:                                  Tell them what we're doing.

Brian:                                    Talking about sending homework into space, which is not an excuse to not do your homework, it's a reason to definitely do your homework.

Quinn:                                  Right. First one I've ever had, really.

Brian:                                    Right.

Quinn:                                  Our guest is Michelle Lucas, and boy, she loves wine, and TV, and cupcakes, and teaching real astronauts, which was her job, she taught astronauts, which is something that you do. Even more than all that, teaching young people who aren't astronauts yet but might be someday because of her.

Brian:                                    Yeah.

Quinn:                                  This is a fun one.

Brian:                                    Let's listen to it.

Quinn:                                  Okay.

Quinn:                                  Our guest today is Michelle Lucas, and together, we're talking about ... Hey, Brian. Your homework is going to get shot into space, where astronauts will finish it. Question. Are you more likely to actually do your homework, now?

Brian:                                    Is this rhetorical or no?

Quinn:                                  It's both.

Brian:                                    Yes.

Quinn:                                  Okay, great. Let's talk about it. Michelle, welcome.

Michelle Lucas:                 Hi, guys. Thanks for having me.

Quinn:                                  For sure.

Brian:                                    We're so pumped to have you.

Quinn:                                  Happy birthday.

Brian:                                    Happy birthday.

Michelle Lucas:                 Thank you. This is a pretty stellar way to spend my birthday, I'm not going to lie. Talking with you guys is fun.

Quinn:                                  Give it a little bit.

Brian:                                    You've spoken too soon. No, no. Okay, Michelle, just tell everybody who you are and what you do.

Michelle Lucas:                 So, the 30 second version is, my name is Michelle Lucas, I am the founder and President of Higher Orbits, a 501 c 3 nonprofit that uses space to get kids more interested in science, technology, engineering, and math, and I come from a space background. I worked in the space industry, in a technical field, prior to doing this.

Quinn:                                  Awesome.

Brian:                                    Awesome.

Quinn:                                  That sounds amazing.

Brian:                                    I mean, seriously.

Quinn:                                  We don't usually dig into ... Let's just do it now. We don't usually dig into, like, "Tell us your whole life story," but I would love to hear a little bit about, because you were just mentioning off air, you are not the typical white gentleman at NASA or in the space industry. Could you just tell us a little bit about your credentials and how you got there, and what your past involved? Not the creepy stuff, but the important stuff.

Brian:                                    The good stuff.

Michelle Lucas:                 Sure. So, I grew up on the South side of Chicago, and I fell in love with space when I was a little girl, and people looked at me like I was crazy, because what's this little girl talking about space and wanting to work for NASA for? And it stuck with me for my entire childhood. I was lucky to get to go to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, I got to go to space camp-

Brian:                                    Such a great museum. My God.

Michelle Lucas:                 Isn't it awesome? I go back at least once a year. Yeah, we've established that we've got a Chicago connection and a Virginia connection here. This call was clearly meant to happen.

Brian:                                    Clearly.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so I went to college, and I studied aerospace engineering, and I studied communications. I then went to work at the Johnson Space Center in mission control. I was a flight controller for the International Space Station for a little while. I was also a technical instructor for astronauts. All I ever wanted to do was work in the space industry, and I felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to literally live my dream.

Michelle Lucas:                 Doing all of those things was phenomenal. I worked with crews that were on the space shuttle. I worked with crews that flew on the Space Station. I worked with the underwater crews. And then life kind of changed, and I started doing some consulting away from NASA. Started doing some educational outreach, and just fell in love with working with students, and that's how Higher Orbits came to be.

Michelle Lucas:                 So my background is actually technical, in mission operations, and if you had told me six years ago that I would be running an educational nonprofit, I'd have told you you'd lost your fricking mind. But I love it, and can't imagine doing anything else.

Quinn:                                  That's super cool. I feel like Brian feels the same way every time he walks into our office, which is, he's really got to live our dream, which is coming to a small, above a liquor shop studio city office to record a podcast.

Brian:                                    Yeah. Every single time I'm here.

Quinn:                                  Very technical background as well.

Michelle Lucas:                 Hey, what I'm hearing is location, location, location. So whatever.

Quinn:                                  Until the wildfires just sweep it all away. That is so cool. I've got a horde a children. I took my oldest to see the Apollo 11 documentary in the theater on the last day, because I just felt like, what an amazing opportunity, and now, he's totally hooked. We watched part of Apollo 13 the other day, because I was like, "Look, man, it doesn't always go well."

Michelle Lucas:                 Awesome.

Quinn:                                  What's amazing, he was in the middle of his nap time, so I said, "You don't have to nap. You get to watch this." And shortly after, "Houston, we have a problem," he looked at me and goes, "Hey, man, listen, this is really great, and I hope they make it, but I got to sleep. I'm exhausted." And I was like, "Cool, man. You do you." But he's into it. He's really into it, and it's just the coolest. It is.

Michelle Lucas:                 That's fantastic. Well, I say there are always two things that kids love. Space and dinosaurs. And I don't know anything about dinosaurs other than a couple of the key ones. I know Sue the T. Rex, and I know what a brontosaurus is, but space? I can talk space. And so, that's part of why I love to do what I do.

Quinn:                                  Awesome. I cannot wait to hear more about this.

Brian:                                    Yeah. All right, Michelle, so what we're going to do, Quinn's going to go over some what he thinks he knows about what you do, it's going to be hilarious.

Quinn:                                  Jesus, way to serve it on up.

Brian:                                    Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, we're having fun today. Yeah, we're going to go over some context for our question here, and what we're talking about, and then get into some action-oriented questions that we can ... Pardon me. That we can ask to get to the heart of why we should care about what you do. Does that sound good?

Michelle Lucas:                 Sure. Absolutely.

Quinn:                                  All right. So, Michelle, you cheated and listened to some of our earlier episodes, or one, or I don't know. I can say you can never get that time back. But we'd like to start with one important question. On your birthday, instead of saying, "Tell us the rest of your entire life story," Michelle, why are you vital to the survival of our species?

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, that's a tough question, and I did hear you ask that in the podcast I listened to. You know, at the end of the day, I think every one of us has some geek in us. Some more than others. And I think that, by encouraging people to embrace their inner geek, which is a lot of what I do with students, is how our species not only survives, but thrives. And so, I think my unofficial mission of trying to get students to embrace their inner geek, because it opens up so many possibilities, is hopefully how I'm helping the survival of our species.

Quinn:                                  I think that sounds pretty great.

Brian:                                    Yeah. I wish somebody would've done that for me when I was a kid.

Quinn:                                  Well, that's a lot of what we're talking about.

Michelle Lucas:                 Same, same.

Quinn:                                  Would this have gotten you to actually do your homework?

Brian:                                    Hell yes.

Quinn:                                  And again, I was nowhere near the world's best student. It was sports, and I thought science was cool and everything, and I grew up on Star Trek, all the things. It's all great. But ah, man, there was sports and ladies and just not doing homework, not even that I was doing anything, sleeping. But if someone's like, "We're going to shoot it into space," well, that's a different question entirely.

Quinn:                                  Anyways. All right, so today, we're talking about getting more folks, and specifically more kids, into STEM science, technology, engineering, mathematics. We have, relative to the rest of the world, and just where we should be in general, clearly, you can see that in our elected representatives, we fall in a bit behind.

Quinn:                                  But not just more kids. We're looking for kids who aren't usually involved in STEM, for a huge variety of stupid reasons. Right? Women, young women, girls, minorities. We have done, collectively, a pretty piss poor job of getting them into STEM, for, again, a huge variety of reasons. It's too expensive, it's not in every school, we were late to the game, our public schools are a mess, we have a huge lack of properly trained educators. What did Sally Wright say? "You can't be what you can't see." Yadda yadda.

Quinn:                                  So, in 2006, President Bush announced [inaudible] called the American Competitiveness Initiative, to strengthen science and tech education in the name of advancing innovation. A few years later, President Obama unveiled a program to train 100,000 new STEM teachers, attract more girls and minorities into the fields. We've got tons of companies involved on a huge scale, from Apple and Google and Microsoft. We've got groups like the Girl Scouts involved, and we've got more quote unquote "Niche" sort of groups, like yours, doing a variety of different things, from Code For America, Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, and so much more.

Quinn:                                  Coding itself, the problem is, is not going to save the day. We know that. That's going to change quickly. Silicon Valley isn't going to ... And starting a software firm or chat app in your garage is not going to save the day, or get these people into a more equal and just economic situation, right, much less advanced science. We need hands-on engineers and scientists who are going to build the next solar panels, and wind turbines, and satellites.

Quinn:                                  And STEM jobs are among the fastest growing middle and upper income occupations in America. Pew found that employment in STEM fields has grown by 79% since 1990, and compare with 34% for all the other occupations. But women's representation in computer jobs has actually declined since 1990, which is just perfect. Blacks and Hispanics continue to be under-representative at nine and seven percent STEM workers, and the ones that are there all, rightfully, complain that they experience workplace discrimination.

Quinn:                                  So, this is why we can't have nice things, because we, and I mean literally you and me, Brian, white guys, we've ruined it. So we need to involve these folks proactively. We need to get into their schools, offer programs like these, to get them doing it early, but to help them see people that they can relate to, to light the fire, to encourage them, to support them.

Quinn:                                  So, that's what I want to talk about today, is, Brian, if I told you we were going to shoot your homework into space, because you won a competition, whatever these variety of reasons are, would you be more likely to do it? Michelle, what was, you said, if we looked back six years ago and said, "You're going to be running this space education nonprofit," you'd have said, "No way, man." What was the thing that lit your fire to make this move? How did you get here?

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, as I said, I've loved space my whole life, and I came from a area that, let's face it, most students in my area weren't going to college. Certainly, very few of them were studying engineering. In fact, when I said I was going to study engineering, because I originally wanted to go to the military academy and fly, [crosstalk] happened, I wasn't real sure. Like, "Oh, I want to fly airplanes, but that whole war thing, I don't know that I can handle that. So, okay, wait. So what do I do? Go be an engineer."

Michelle Lucas:                 I'd never met an engineer. I didn't know what the heck that meant. And it didn't help that my brother was telling everyone, "Oh, my sister's going to go drive trains." Because, to him, that's what an engineer was.

Quinn:                                  Which is understandable.

Brian:                                    Right.

Michelle Lucas:                 Right. As you mentioned, Sally Wright said, "You can't be what you don't see." Sometimes some of us can manage to get past that, and I was fortunate in that case, but I found out about this lovely place that you guys have probably heard of, and if you haven't been, you have to go, because it's available for adults, too. Space camp.

Quinn:                                  Man, I want to go to space camp so fucking bad.

Michelle Lucas:                 Dude, they have adult space camp. You so have to go, and when you go, let me know. Because I'm going to come visit you. Well, maybe not. But we'll see. [crosstalk]

Quinn:                                  Wait, now it's out there. There's thousands of people that just heard you say that. No, I definitely-

Michelle Lucas:                 Now I'm held accountable.

Quinn:                                  Let me ask, is it as awesome as I hope it is?

Michelle Lucas:                 Oh, it totally is. And I sound like I'm digressing, but that's really the benefit of why I decided to do what I'm doing. As a kid, I wanted to go to space camp, and we couldn't afford it. My mom's response, so it wasn't exactly this, to paraphrase, was, "It sounds awesome, honey, but I'm pretty sure it's more than five bucks, so I'm pretty sure we can't afford it."

Michelle Lucas:                 And I applied for a scholarship, and I got to attend space camp on scholarship. So, fast forward, I've gone to college, and I've worked in dream jobs, and I'm loving what I'm doing, and I feel this urge to give back, because I got to where I got because of the help of others. And, yeah, I could just raise money for scholarships, and that's great, but I wanted to be able to bring a space-inspired kind of camp to what I call the backyard of people's community.

Michelle Lucas:                 So that way, people didn't have to travel, and they would have the opportunity to be inspired by space like I was. Because space inspires whether you are five or 95. My grandfather, who passed last year, would call me on a semi-regular basis and be like, "Honey, what's this about this mission that's going to go to the sun?" Or things like that. At 90-something, he was still inspired by space.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so that's really how it all came to be. I wanted to give back, like others had given back in a way that changed my life. And the way for me to do that was in the field that I love and think can inspire so many.

Quinn:                                  That's amazing. You know you're earning it and you're doing it when Grandpa's calling and asking about those things. Because you've provided that link. It's personal now.

Michelle Lucas:                 Yep.

Brian:                                    Wow, that's cool.

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, and it's very interesting, because my whole family, they're all amazing. They follow along in the space industry, and my aunt, my mom. And so, because of me being passionate about it from the time I was a young kid, it involved all of them as well, because I loved it so much. And this is how we change the world with respect to meeting more students studying STEM.

Michelle Lucas:                 When you can get one person super excited about it, they can excite everyone around them, and that makes everyone around them more aware of opportunities, and how they can help students, and helping to get their representatives to pass legislation that is STEM-friendly. And so, I really believe that using space as that platform is a great way to, in some ways, I know it sounds Pollyanna, but in a lot of ways, it's a great way to change the world for the better.

Quinn:                                  It's not Pollyanna. It's necessary. Besides being awesome, it is necessary in a number of ways. Again, you could go down a huge variety of rabbit holes on this, but we have some serious problems we need to fix to also look at all the modern day conveniences that have come out of our space research and the space industry that, basically, everyone takes for granted, even if they know that it came from there. And then they [crosstalk] when NASA gets another half cent on the dollar.

Michelle Lucas:                 Right. Well, you'd be amazed how many people say, "Well, what do I need space for?" As they're looking at Google Maps on their phone or something. I'm like, "Come on. Do you not understand? It touches every element of our life today."

Quinn:                                  GPS is telling them where to go.

Michelle Lucas:                 Yeah.

Brian:                                    I just watched a little Ricky Gervais standup, and he was talking about people giving him shit about, "I don't need science," and he's like, "You're tweeting at me because of science. What are you talking about? You would be nothing without it." Crazy.

Brian:                                    So, okay, Michelle, you mentioned how you possibly, with your sparkly nails and such, there's people that probably look at you and say, "Oh, what is she doing here? She doesn't fit in." And that's super important. Was there ever a time that you felt that you needed to dial it back or change or be different?

Michelle Lucas:                 Oh my gosh, you are asking the $20 million question, and when I run events with students, I tell them my story, and I used to be very uncomfortable doing it, and astronaut Don Thomas encouraged me, "Look, you need to share, because the journey is what people connect with."

Michelle Lucas:                 So, let me go back a little bit further than dialing it back. When I was in elementary and middle school, all I wanted to talk about was space. I was the geek who wanted to talk about the rockets and the space shuttles. I wasn't that interested in boys quite yet. I was into sports, but I didn't want to talk about the other things that normal kids talk about.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so I was weird. I didn't fit in, and I was incredibly, incredibly bulled in middle school. I talk to kids, I'm like, "Yeah, I was the kid who was literally shoved in the lockers." And they look at me now, and they're like, "I don't believe you." I'm like, "Well, go ask my mom. I used to cry because I didn't want to go to school. I hated it so much."

Michelle Lucas:                 And I started to doubt myself with respect to, "Well, maybe I should be more like everybody. Maybe I should quit being a geek." And then I went to space camp, and that's where I say I found my pride. I found other students who were like me, and I realized that it was okay to be me, it was okay to be a geek. And that's not to say that it made school any easier, because I still got shoved into lockers, but it did help me cope a little bit better.

Michelle Lucas:                 So fast forward. I get into the work industry, and I did dial it back. I was kind of a typical khakis and polo, which is what everybody wears at NASA, had to fit in. To blend in. And it took me going out on my own and being able to just answer to myself, with running my own company, to say, "You know what? I like fashion, and I like my nails to be sparkly, and I like cool handbags and purses and shoes. And that's me, and you know what? I'm going to embrace that, because guess what?"

Michelle Lucas:                 You know what every teenage girl ... Okay, maybe not every, I shouldn't quite be that broad, most teenage girls, what do they want to look like? Kim Kardashian, or pick your celeb. So why can't we show them that you can be fashionable and smart at the same time? Now, we can debate whether my fashionable is really fashionable or not. It's Michelle fashion, and I'm cool with that. Half of my closet has star clothes in it.

Brian:                                    Hey, stars are cool.

Michelle Lucas:                 Stars are awesome. And so, I just started embracing it, and it's interesting, because I've gotten as much pushback from women as I do from men. I've had a lot of women push back of, "You need to quit drawing attention, you need to fit in. You don't want them to come talk to you just because you look like you look." I'm like, "That's fine. If they want to come over here because I'm wearing a dress instead of something that makes me look doubty, great. Because it's going to take them about 30 seconds to find out I know my shit, and then let's keep moving."

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, I think it's important, again, to go back to Sally Wright's quote, people can't be what they can't see, well, guess what? If we are worried about teenage girls getting more interested in being STEM-focused, or, quite frankly, just being willing to be smart, because they're worried that the boys will make fun of them, but they also want to care about fashion, we have to show them people who say, "Hey, you can do both. They don't have to be mutually exclusive."

Quinn:                                  And I think that's so important, because we did mention above, of the women and minorities who are in the industry, or the variety of industries under the STEM umbrella, most of them have reported workplace discrimination in some way or another, whether it's informal or formal or how outright it might be.

Quinn:                                  I don't think it surprises anyone at this point, but it's not just about putting the resources in the classroom, or having these nonprofits. It's okay, now those are there. How do we make people feel comfortable doing it, being themselves, so they don't go like, "Christ, I got to go buy four pairs of khakis, and four white polos," to be themselves and bring it to them, because that's how we end up with a much wider variety of perspectives without it being beaten out of them.

Michelle Lucas:                 Absolutely. And our unique talents, and our unique personalities, are what make us good at the things we do. And so my presentation to students is embracing your inner geek. And whatever that means to you, but then also just embracing being you. Now, I will tell you that I have been so fortunate. Yeah, I have some horror stories. Everybody does. But there are jerks out there in the world whether you're male or female, the color of your skin, whatever.

Michelle Lucas:                 But I can tell you that my experience in the space industry is that I had a lot of female colleagues. I have a lot of female colleagues. Especially in the human space flight realm, working at Johnson Space Center. I never felt like I was treated as lesser because I was a woman. People might've looked at me a little odd when I showed up with my big sparkly nails, but it didn't take long for them to be like, "Okay, everything's fine."

Michelle Lucas:                 But I do want us to be careful. It's actually very personal to me. We can go too far the other way. We all do have to work together at the end of the day, and with my nonprofit, I work with high school aged girls and boys. And I'm seeing that high school boys are feeling very kind of alienated in some ways, because they're like, "Hey, wait, I didn't do anything wrong. Why am I the bad guy all of a sudden?"

Quinn:                                  Sure. It's like original sin.

Michelle Lucas:                 Exactly. And so I think it's just really important that we remember that the sins of our fathers, shall we say, are not the sins of the children, and so I think that 20-year-olds and early 30-year-olds, people are a lot more accepting of a lot. The old regime is kind of on the way out, and let's chase it.

Quinn:                                  Thank God.

Michelle Lucas:                 40 years ago, no, women didn't have a seat at the table in aerospace. And I speak to aerospace because that's my world. But we've had a seat at the table for quite a while, and the people who are at the top are maybe not evolving as fast as we would like, because they come from that old guard, but the younger managers, I have high hopes. I really, really have high hopes for things in the workplace.

Quinn:                                  It's great to hear, and we're seeing it across industries wherever you look, which is the baby boomers, besides having ruined everything, are getting older. They're retiring, or they're having a hard time letting go, or blaming millennials for more or less everything, much less generation Z. But there is a hell of a tide of change coming, so hopefully that just makes the whole situation for boys and girls and everything in between much more receptive.

Michelle Lucas:                 Absolutely.

Brian:                                    It's going to be nice. All right, so, let's talk about Higher Orbits, your business, how it works. You've obviously got some connections in the industry, but how does one work with NASA to build a relationship like yours and to build your company? And is it typical? Is NASA open to more relationships like this?

Michelle Lucas:                 So, with Higher Orbits, we run a program called Go For Launch, where students compete to have their science [inaudible] to the International Space Station. And, much to everybody's surprise, I don't actually work directly with NASA to make that happen. With the commercialization of space, the opportunity to put things on the International Space Station is much more open than it ever has been.

Michelle Lucas:                 If you tried to fly experiments to the Space Station, let's say, even 10 years ago, under the way regulations were set up, the process was set up, it would take forever. In fact, my first job when I worked at Johnson Space Center starting in 2000 was, I sat on the [inaudible] review panel for this safety, reliability and quality assurance contract. That's a mouthful. And the process was just ... Honestly, it was painful. And it would be impossible as an outsider to come in without some help, and it takes years.

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, with the size increase of the International Space Station, and commercialization, there are partners that sign what are called space act agreements, where you can work with these partners and get your science flown to space. So we work with a company called Space Tango out of Lexington, Kentucky, and they are our integrators. So we've signed contracts with them, they've signed space act agreements with the Center of Advancement for Science and Space, which is who manages half of the International Space Station in cooperation with NASA. I know, it's very convoluted, right? The flowchart.

Brian:                                    This is great.

Michelle Lucas:                 I'll give you some crayons. Will that help?

Brian:                                    Perfect.

Michelle Lucas:                 So, it becomes, effectively, a pay to play. If you have money, you can fly science on board the International Space Station. And so we are fortunate to work with Space Tango. For a fee, we work with them, they build the payload, they take it through the safety process, they get it manifested, meaning get it scheduled to be launched, get it on the rocket, and send it up to the International Space Station.

Michelle Lucas:                 And we have done that in a timeframe as short as six months, from us giving them the experiment idea to the launch of the experiment, and that's unheard of in some ways. Think about it, it probably takes you six months to, I don't know, do some major project at your house, nevertheless off the planet. Right?

Brian:                                    Oh, absolutely. That is wildly fast for space.

Michelle Lucas:                 It's exciting. It's one of those things that, it's science fiction, in some ways, becoming science fact. And being able to send student science to the International Space Station, talk about changing your world. You guys are joking about doing your homework, but it's not really a joke. When you open up the possibilities like this, it does make students more inclined to do their homework, or study STEM, or just be more engaged.

Brian:                                    That's wild.

Quinn:                                  That's so rad. I'm just sitting here thinking. So, can you tell us a little bit about some of the stuff that's been sent up there?

Michelle Lucas:                 Yeah. And so, for context, all of these experiments, with the exception of one, are students in grades eight through 12. We did do one middle school program, but all the rest have been high school. And so the ideas are completely up to the students. Now, we do give them some parameters. It has to fit inside a four inch cube, they're not allowed to blow anything up. Yeah, I would have to give you guys that parameter. I can see you guys, you want to explode things, set things on fire, we can't do those things.

Brian:                                    I started thinking about that right as you [crosstalk 00:29:07].

Quinn:                                  Michelle, I don't appreciate your sweeping generalizations. Just because you've known us for 20 ... What are we at? 28 minutes.

Brian:                                    Your true sweeping generalizations.

Michelle Lucas:                 20 minutes? Am I wrong?

Quinn:                                  Mm-mm (negative). Not at all. Not at all.

Michelle Lucas:                 Okay, okay.

Quinn:                                  I was saying to my wife the other day, I have two boys and a girl, and again, this is a sweeping generalization that is not true, but my girl, who's in the middle, looks at her brothers like, "What is wrong with you? Why is your gut instinct like, 'Knock this down, physicality, grunting, blow things up?' I just don't understand." And it's just like, "How did that happen?" Anyways. Yeah.

Michelle Lucas:                 It's part of the DNA, apparently, I guess. So that's why I have to say, "You can't blow anything up. No, we can't fly Ebola," and they can't fly animals like mice, or anything with a backbone. But other than that, it's up to them. And so we've had a wide range. We've had everything from ... We flew bees last summer. We flew some bees. We had flown radiation-eating fungus. Who knew that was a thing? Not me.

Brian:                                    Wow. I want to know about that.

Michelle Lucas:                 Some students from Durham, right? We have flown a radiation experiment where they were testing some radiation shielding on E. coli. We've done some biology, we did a plants experiment on nitrogen fixation in plants. And so, as you can see ... Mealworms. So, as you can see, they're kind of all over the board, and that's what's so exciting to me, is, these students, if you give them the opportunity, they come up with some amazing ideas.

Michelle Lucas:                 I'll tell you what, I'm glad I don't have to compete with them, because I could never think of ideas as good as theirs are. And I have no knowledge in depth on any of these experiments. These are truly the students' experiment, and their idea, and I do my best to not interfere, because I'll just mess it up. They're going to do awesome. All they need is for me to go, "Okay, is this safe? Is that safe? Have you thought about this?"

Michelle Lucas:                 But if I got into the nitty gritty with them, I'd just mess it up, because their ability to think outside the box, which I know is ironic, because I'm making them put it inside a box, but their ability to think outside the box is one of the great strengths that they have that, unfortunately, at some point, we end up beating out of them through school and college and work.

Brian:                                    I can't imagine, as a 16-year-old, what I would suggest that we send to the Space Station.

Quinn:                                  I can't imagine now, as a 35-year-old, what you would suggest that we send.

Brian:                                    Yeah, [inaudible 00:31:43].

Quinn:                                  That is so cool. So, just some quick practicals, where is your program, how does one get into your program? Is it by school, is it by student? Is it application based?

Michelle Lucas:                 So, we run this program all across the country, and you can find out the cities that we'll be in on our website, Higherorbits.org, and it's orbits with an S, as in a planetary orbit, not that travel website kind of orbit.

Brian:                                    Oh, got it.

Michelle Lucas:                 And we work with a variety of hosts. We've been everywhere from, we've been in the Frontiers of Flight Museum, we've been in the San Diego Air and Space Museum, we've worked with universities and high schools, we [inaudible] University, we've been at Watkins Memorial in Pataskala, Ohio. And we've also been in the gym of the Boys and Girls Club of [inaudible] Massachusetts. And so we are very flexible, and we work with a wide variety of folks.

Michelle Lucas:                 From an application perspective, anybody who wants to attend who fits the grade range is welcome to attend. It is not a, you have to be this superstar to get in. We run between 15 and 20 programs a year, and we're always adding new programs as we can. Our goal is not to turn everybody into a rocket scientist, though being a rocket scientist is certainly cool. But we want to use space as a way to show students the myriad of opportunities that exist if they're willing to put some effort into the STEM subjects.

Michelle Lucas:                 And there's great programs out there, like you mentioned, the coding programs, and there's Team America Rocketry Challenge, and Zero Robotics, and things like that. Our goal with Go For Launch is to, yes, reach the students who already are interested in space and STEM, but I'm even more interested in the kids who are like, "You know what, science sucks, but hanging out with an astronaut for two days, well, that would be cool."

Quinn:                                  You can call your bluff on anybody, right? Anyone who's like, "I don't want to hang out with an astronaut," it's like, "Well, you're incorrect."

Michelle Lucas:                 Yes, exactly. Exactly. And so, we've been fortunate to be able to reach a wide variety of students. And some of my favorite stories are not necessarily the STEM rockstars that come in. I was in Massachusetts, and I had a parent walk in with her two boys, and she's like, "Oh, boy, we'll see how this goes." And I looked at her, I'm like, "What do you mean?" And she's like, "Well, you know, they just like video games and football, but I'm making them come to this."

Michelle Lucas:                 Of course, in the back of my mind, I'm like, "Oh, boy. How is this going to go? How is this day going to go?" And the boys were both great, and they asked awesome questions of the astronaut that was there, and everything is done in teams, and so they worked really well with their team, and they didn't know two of the kids who was on their team.

Michelle Lucas:                 Day ends, blah blah blah, come in the next morning, and the mom walks in again and goes, "What did you do?" And I'm like, "Oh, shit. What did I do? Did I say something? Did I say something I'm not supposed to? Because I'm really good about not cussing in front of the students, but maybe I slipped, I don't know." And she's like, "Last night," she goes, "Normally, at dinner, the answers are 'Fine,' 'Okay,' 'Yes,' but I couldn't get them to shut up for an hour and a half. They wanted to tell me about how the astronaut said this, and Ms. Michelle said this, and did you know, on a space walk, blah blah blah? They wouldn't shut up."

Quinn:                                  Man, that's cool.

Brian:                                    It's the coolest subject in the world. Yeah, everybody loves it.

Michelle Lucas:                 Exactly. And these were kids who were not necessarily very interested in STEM to start with, and so those are the stories that I love to tell, because people think, "Well, this program's not for my kid, because my kid doesn't like science." Well, I'm going to tell you you're wrong. This is exactly the program for your kid if they don't like science or math, because maybe they'll realize, "Hey, what I think of as science and math, there's so much more out there as opportunity, I just don't know about it yet." And I hope to show them.

Quinn:                                  I love it. What a tremendous effort. You said 15, 20 a year, I think you said. How do you decide where to actually go and where to host those? Do places reach out to you? Do you pick them? Just for anyone out there who's like, "Boy, that would be fun at my school." How does that work?

Michelle Lucas:                 So, a little bit of both. It started off with me making connections with people that I knew across the country to hold the events. And our goal is to come back to the same cities year after year if we can, because we want to establish relationships. When Suzie comes to camp, but her little brother isn't quite old enough, we want to be there when he's old enough to go.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, we now, it's a variety of past locations that we've worked with, and people reaching out to us, saying, "Hey, we'd love to host." Obviously, there's a financial component that comes with this, and we work with partners and sponsors that help support that, but we are open to having this event anywhere that is interested. And like I said before, we're happy to be in fancy gigs, like a museum. We're also happy to be in the gym. We just want to reach as many students as we can.

Brian:                                    Do you ever feel compelled to go to, you know, Gary?

Michelle Lucas:                 Back to where I came from? I actually do. It's on my list of places to try and make work, even though it sounds crazy. The fact that I'm from there does not necessarily mean that everybody runs up and goes, "Hey, here's partnerships and sponsorships to help financially make this happen," and this is the kind of area that we do need the financial support. The program is a pay to play program, where students pay a fee to attend the event.

Michelle Lucas:                 Now, in some locations, like Durham, North Carolina, we had amazing support from the Durham Library Foundation, and no student paid to attend any of the six events that we had. And so, some locations, we need that so we can adequately reach folks. Now, other locations, they're a little bit more financially [inaudible 00:38:07], and we're able to get sponsorships to where students who have a financial barrier, we can give a scholarship to, but then the students who don't have that financial barrier, mom or dad can pay for it just like they do any other camp.

Quinn:                                  So, two questions. Literally, how much does it cost to put one of these on, and two, on a micro level, what is it, for the pay to play, what is sort of an entry fee to participate?

Michelle Lucas:                 So, I will give you the context of, in general, to fly a payload, the size of our payload into space, [inaudible] starting rate is about $55,000. So it's not cheap. And the part we haven't talked about that much is that there's an astronaut there for the whole event. Not like one talks, [inaudible] out the door, astronaut is there for the whole event.

Brian:                                    So cool.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, there's obviously a cost associated with that. There's other parameters that kind of depends. If you take a look at our website, you'll see that we run series of events, meaning that we're able to break apart the cost of the experiment launch over various events. And so, a single event, depending on a whole variety of parameters, can cost between 30 and $75,000 to run.

Michelle Lucas:                 We've had some places that wanted to guarantee a launch from their particular event, and that, obviously, ups the cost. But for a student to attend, I have worked really, really hard to keep this as low as we can, and consistent across all of the events. So a two-day event is $250, and our three-day events are $300. Now, that includes all supplies, and we feed them lunch, and snacks, and breakfast. You have kids. You know they're very food motivated. Oh, by the way, so are astronauts.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, it's on par with other STEM events. But our hope in 2020, especially, is to get to where we have the partner and sponsor support that no student's paying more than $50 to attend any of our events. So that's my big, huge goal, and I'm going to keep charging for it and hope that we can get there.

Quinn:                                  Brian is rifling through his wallet as we speak.

Brian:                                    Do you guys ... Go ahead, sorry.

Michelle Lucas:                 I don't know what to say. I believe every dollar helps, so Brian, even if you've got two bucks, I'll take it.

Brian:                                    Right? I don't.

Quinn:                                  Unclear if he has two bucks. There's nothing in the wallet.

Brian:                                    Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Quinn:                                  He just rifles through it every once in a while.

Brian:                                    I feel like that's a pretty ... Well. [crosstalk]

Quinn:                                  That's a totally different discussion.

Brian:                                    That seems like a really reasonable price.

Quinn:                                  Yeah, it does. The more we can get these corporations that pay zero taxes to come in and participate and help and do the right thing, the better, and I think that's a awesome goal. If you can get it down to 50 bucks, that's pretty spectacular.

Brian:                                    Michelle, do you offer freeze dried ice cream?

Michelle Lucas:                 It's so funny that you ask that, because every student loves the astronaut ice cream.

Brian:                                    It sticks in my head.

Quinn:                                  Brian's a child.

Brian:                                    I'm basically a child. I remember that so much. I'm pretty sure we had it at the Museum of Science and History. They sold it there, and you can walk around eating it.

Michelle Lucas:                 Absolutely. Absolutely. And so, they do different team challenges, where they're competing for what we call "Space Flag," and one of the Space Flag items is sometimes the ice cream. But you know, we never actually flew that in space. The astronauts don't actually eat that stuff.

Brian:                                    Well, I'm going to continue to believe that they do.

Quinn:                                  Yep, we're going to cut that part right out.

Brian:                                    Editing that out. They eat it, they love it.

Michelle Lucas:                 I'm sorry, I was totally mistaken. We'll just ignore that I said that. I was losing my mind.

Brian:                                    You're a monster. So, how do you think we can work to improve a broader STEM environment in public schools, for example? If you were secretary of education, where would you start? And obviously, funding varies state to state, and so does curricula, that's a whole other conversation we can have. But let's say you could create a race to the top that actually worked.

Michelle Lucas:                 Okay, so if I stay away from the monetary element of educational challenges, I'm amazed how many teachers I talk to that, they're so hindered by these state tests and having to teach to these stupid tests that they can't include curriculum that is interesting to the student. And space is one of those things that is frequently not taught, because it doesn't fit within whatever they're going to test on [inaudible 00:42:49].

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, I would do an overhaul of the whole concept of, "Look, we have to make science, math, interesting for students." Because, more than ever, they have a billion ways to entertain themselves that is not school, and so if we don't provide something that is entertaining in some way, or relevant, why would they embrace it?

Michelle Lucas:                 And the idea of just teaching from a book and not giving real world is just ... It doesn't work. We have to give students hands-on experiences that tie back to something that is meaningful to them in their daily lives. And, with a space perspective, come on, you've already mentioned Twitter, phones, GPS. And so showing students how things are relevant in their day-to-day life.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so I would take science and education in general and put it on it's side of, yeah, you need to know the facts, and the facts are important, but you also need to understand how it's relevant to your everyday life. Come on, you guys, you went through math class, or algebra, and you're like, "When is this ever going to matter? Why do I care?" And so you don't embrace it. You don't take it on.

Michelle Lucas:                 But if somebody could show you, "Okay, I know you think this sucks right now, and I'm not going to argue with you, because it kind of does, but you have to know this so that way you can be the person who is launching satellites that are going to help your phone work." Then it changes it for kids. Then it totally opens up the aperture of how they view things.

Michelle Lucas:                 And at the end of the day, the teacher from Ferris Bueller's Day Off that we've all had has got to go. We have to have teachers who are engaging and passionate, because that is how you get students to be engaged and passionate about these subjects.

Quinn:                                  Yeah. Obviously, we need to pay them a lot more to help them to be passionate-

Brian:                                    To motivate them.

Quinn:                                  -So they can not have to have 12 jobs and so incredible organizations like DonorsChoose don't even have to exist, because they shouldn't have to buy their own classroom supplies to make that practical connection in reality. Again, we can go down that hole, but I like where you're going with ...

Quinn:                                  Again, it comes back to if you can't see it, you can't be it. If you can't make that exciting connection, if we can't make that the standard in the classroom, that it has to be involved, it has to include visualizations and connections to real world applications, whether it's looking at it as, "Here's the list of opportunities it applies to," or, "Here's the list of real world problems it applies to."

Quinn:                                  We had a conversation in one of our previous episodes, one of our sort of side episodes, about how college majors and things like that need to change to be more oriented towards the real world. And so if you're not just a political science major, you might be a ...

Quinn:                                  Maybe not political science, but maybe it's like you're not a political science major, but you're majoring in India-Pakistan relations, and so you study sociology, and anthropology, and Indian history, and Pakistani history, and political science, and religion, and you study, you do a little military history and things like that so that you come to these things with a comprehensive understanding of like, "This is what's happening in the real world," or what could come, or what you could build.

Quinn:                                  It doesn't have to start in college or university, if we want to be European about it. But it does help kids. Again, kids are so much more connected to the world than they've ever been. They can go home and find out about this stuff. They can go on Wikipedia and find out about this shit and go, "Oh, that'd be cool. I have an idea." It just starts with like, "I have an idea." And they can't do that. It's not their fault if we don't put that in front of them.

Quinn:                                  So, kind of heading that way, I want to pivot a little bit here, which is, we have talked about it before, which is like, I am not a STEM major. Brian is definitely not a STEM major. I have no STEM background aside from, I've always loved science and technology, and I've turned that into writing sci-fi movies and TV and other stories and things like that, and building this little business to help people be aware of it, but there is a confluence there, which is turning it into writing. It's the A part in STEAM, the arts.

Quinn:                                  So we've talked about STEM, which is writing and philosophy and religion and political science and things like that, and anthropology and sociology. So while we clearly need to get so many more varied folks into STEM, part of our problem, a different problem, connected problem, is that some of the folks that are in STEM leadership positions these days, which is, again, ding ding ding, mostly white guys, and it's usually in the technology front, have more or less ignored the arts. And we are paying a hell of a price for that.

Quinn:                                  Well, they've broken society. Where's the chief liberal arts major executive to ask the chief technology officer, "Should we do this? What problem is this trying to solve? How have people tried to solve this problem before? How does this affect people's lives, or their livelihood, down the line? What does this mean for our companies, or our countries, or our humanitarian values?"

Quinn:                                  Or, in the case of climate change, it's a lack of storytelling, right? It's very clear, and now it's become part of the discussion, that facts didn't cut it, facts aren't cutting it. Clearly, we have to do a better job with the storytelling to get people where it counts. Again, their values, their emotions.

Quinn:                                  Shit, we just talked about your celebrating your 21st birthday by drinking wine and watching The Big Bang Theory, right? There's so many ways to elevate science and to incorporate it into our day-to-day lives, and the reasons why it matters, and why it's exciting, and what we can do with it, whether you're into Star Trek: Discovery, or you're a TNG nerd, or you're just not and you just like rocks, or whatever it might be.

Quinn:                                  So, I'm curious, what role do the arts have in your life, and how do you see that being a part of how you build things going forward? Where is it being done well, or where could it be done better? I'm curious, and that part is important to me.

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, and I'm going to take arts into a slightly larger context than what people normally think of with art, I'm going to take it more to the liberal arts side of things, in the context of communication. A lot of the things you've talked about are communication issues. We suck as a society at communicating. Yeah, great, we can get on our phones and text and read whatever is put in front of us that came through Facebook or whatnot, but actual communication and person to person communication is becoming an issue.

Michelle Lucas:                 If you can't tell the story, then why would anybody care? And to be honest, it's something that the space industry has not done a fantastic job with for a long time. Yeah, we can say space is amazing, but for a couple decades, people were like, "Yeah, so what?" Because we hadn't landed on the moon, and then especially when the space shuttle quit flying.

Michelle Lucas:                 I mean, we haven't landed on the moon since almost 50 years ago. Well, 50 years will be the first moon landing this July. And so one of the things that we ... Oh, go ahead.

Quinn:                                  No, I was just going to say, and then The Martian comes along and NASA applications go through the roof. It's like, "Yeah, but we can't just rely on that."

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, and you're exactly right, but going back to the topic we just talked about, making it applicable and making it exciting. And so one of the things that we really work with students on, in addition to the STEM leadership and teamwork, is communication. You have to be able to communicate, and one of the things that I love about communication, and it's one of my majors, is the ability to tell a story.

Michelle Lucas:                 And I tell students that, "Don't think about giving a presentation as being something scary. Think of it as, you're a storyteller. You get to be you, going back to our topic earlier. You get to be you. You get to show your personality, and your communication style, and tell the story how you want to tell the story, even if it's fact-based. You still get to control the narrative with your storytelling techniques."

Michelle Lucas:                 And I think telling the story is so, so incredibly important. It's one of those things that I actually am a big believer that NASA is doing a good job of right now, and talking about going to the moon in 2024. They're appealing to the idea of the story, the fact that it's been 50 years since we first set foot on the moon, and the idea that the next boots on the moon, hopefully, will be by 2024, if all goes according to plan, and they are consistently saying the next man and the first woman. And that opens up so much discussion and so much conversation.

Michelle Lucas:                 From an arts perspective, there's art in everything. If you look at design and engineering, even within a rocket engine, there's overlap between technology and engineering, nature and art. And so, whether you are an art major or not, and let's be very clear, my stick people look funny, I have no artistic talents at all, whatsoever, but I appreciate the elements of art that exist in things, and I think that art is a very important part.

Michelle Lucas:                 Look at every space mission. It has a mission patch to tell that story in an artistic way, and that's something we do with all of our student teams. They have to create a mission patch. That's one of the first things that they ... Well, it's something they do on the first day, as a team. And that tells a story better than facts, sometimes, because, let's face it, you start talking numbers and half the room zones out.

Michelle Lucas:                 And as you mentioned, with climate change, and just about anything else political, facts don't necessarily change people's minds. Stories do. And so I believe that communication and storytelling, whether it's verbal or it's through art, I think that's a crucial piece to doing better in STEM.

Quinn:                                  Yeah. It makes such a difference. It makes it all so much more ... It's like giving my dog his pills with peanut butter. It just makes it better. Peanut butter is amazing, and The Martian is amazing, and Apollo 13 is amazing, and The Big Bang Theory is amazing for so many people, fuck the haters. If that's what gets it done, then that's fantastic.

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, I got a Big Bang Theory for you guys. Since you live above a liquor store, your office is above a liquor store, here's a great party game to play with your friends who watch Big Bang Theory. After a beverage or two, ask, "So which Big Bang character do you think I am? And which Big Bang character do you think you are?" And it's really funny to watch people flounder on that. It's quite entertaining.

Quinn:                                  Fascinating. I like that. We're going to have to do that. We might have to do a whole fun talk on that.

Brian:                                    We can do that, I'm down.

Quinn:                                  Yeah. Hey, so, and we're getting close to time, here, we don't want to keep you forever. What are the biggest obstacles you're running into these days to doing your job well, to continuing to build and grow?

Michelle Lucas:                 For me, my biggest obstacle is a desire to stay small and organic, because I want our programs to remain very intimate. I don't want to be having five, 600 students at a single program, because then they lose that individual attention, which I think is so important. But to do that, it means it costs more money. Because you can't [inaudible] over a larger number.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, grants are really hard to get, and they're very time consuming, and so, at the end of the day, I'm like the average entrepreneur, funding. I would love to be able to just go and run these programs for as many students as I can without having to spend part of my time asking for donations of [inaudible] in the cities that I'm in, and that sounds cheeky, but I literally do. I ask for [inaudible] donations in the cities I'm in.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, I keep joking that if I find out George Lucas is my long lost uncle, that would make life so much easier. Unfortunately, Ancestry.com has failed me in that. I think they're wrong, but you never know.

Quinn:                                  You never know, you never know.

Michelle Lucas:                 So, for me, that is my biggest challenge, and I think that's probably not uncommon with anybody else who has a small entity and organization. We stay very lean with our organization. I don't want to be a big, fat nonprofit that is making ... That's President is making ridiculous money. I won't even get into my soapbox on that.

Michelle Lucas:                 But as they said in The Right Stuff, "No bucks, no buck Rogers," well, no bucks, no programs to inspire these students. And so, at the end of the day, it comes down to funding. I feel fortunate that I've got great reports from so many astronauts and people in the space and STEM community, and we do see a wide range of students.

Michelle Lucas:                 Organically, we are 40% female. I don't target women specifically, but about 40% of our participants are female. I think that goes back to a chick being who's leading all of these. They see a chick, and they're like, "Oh, okay, cool. I can do that, too." And so, I hear that as a problem to some people, but that's not one of ours. So, at the end of the day, it comes down to dollars and cents. But I would do this for free if it all worked out that I could pay for everything else, and I could pay my bills.

Quinn:                                  Sure. Yeah, yeah, I get it.

Brian:                                    Yeah.

Quinn:                                  All right, so listen, our goal is, as we mentioned, to provide some specific action steps our listeners can take to support your mission with their voice, their vote. If the time is right, and their dollar, so let's kind of finish with that. So, with their voice, let's shine a light on where we need to go as a people. What are the big, actionable, but specific questions the rest of us should be asking of our representatives?

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, first and foremost, you should be asking of your representatives, if they don't have a science, technology background, and they're making decisions on science and technology issues, where are they getting their information? It's your job as a constituent to get smart on these topics and talk to your representatives.

Michelle Lucas:                 At the end of the day, the space program, I think the current number of spinoff dollars is, for every dollar into the space program, eight to 10 comes back into the economy this spinoff. Look, we're not just incinerating dollars to launch a rocket, it's jobs. It's good jobs. It's spinoffs.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, educating yourself about those kinds of topics is incredibly important, and if you are educated about these topics, sharing with friends, family, et cetera, who maybe are not as smart on it, because let's face it, we all need to care about this if we want to remain in a position of power when it comes to science, technology, engineering, and math. We've got to educate our students, and as such, we have to educate ourselves, as well.

Brian:                                    Sure. Love it. And what about their dollar? What can we all be doing with our hard-earned cash?

Quinn:                                  Get specific.

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, with your hard-earned cash, you can visit the Higher Orbits website and make a donation. Also, in local areas, we're always looking for sponsors and partners, and so yes, selfishly, please, go donate to Higher Orbits. We are a 501 c 3 nonprofit, and so it is tax deductible, but I believe we all win together. So if you have a STEM organization that is near and dear to your heart, all of us STEM organizations have the same challenges. There's just never enough money, and so by investing in STEM for students, you are truly investing in the future of not just this country, but this planet.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, that's an investment that is worth making, and so I encourage everyone to invest more in our students, because they are inheriting a world that has a lot of challenges, that's overpopulated, that has a myriad of issues that we've all created and they're going to have to solve.

Quinn:                                  Yeah. They've got some shit coming their way. I think they're very aware of that, which is why they're doing their school strikes and everything, but boy. Things are changing.

Brian:                                    The times are a-changing. Michelle, thank you so much for doing this and for talking with us today, especially on your birthday. It has been incredible.

Quinn:                                  She's had better birthdays, that's for sure.

Brian:                                    She's definitely had better birthdays. No, we really appreciate it, and we'll let you go after our little lightning round, if that sounds okay.

Michelle Lucas:                 Of course. And no, sincerely, guys, this was fun. This was a good way to ... I always like meeting new people, and even if I've only met you guys through the phone, I love to meet people who are trying to do good things in the world, and so thank you for inviting me to be on, and you guys are fun. This was awesome.

Quinn:                                  You think it's just through the phone till Brian shows up at your wine and Big Bang Theory party tonight with his happy birthday costume on.

Michelle Lucas:                 I'm going to shed a tear tonight, I'm pretty sure. I'm very sad the show is ending.

Quinn:                                  I get it, I get it. Well, what can come out of the ashes? What's next, besides Young Sheldon? All right, last few questions. Michelle, when was the first time in your life you realized you had the power of change, the power to do something meaningful?

Michelle Lucas:                 Oh, wow. I think that didn't come until probably my mid to late 20s. I never thought that I was anything more than a tiny little piece of the puzzle, and the reality is, we're all a tiny little piece of the puzzle, but that was when I started to realize that my voice mattered, and that if I decided to take a stand on something and work towards something, that I could be somebody who helps make a difference.

Michelle Lucas:                 And it was, again, helping a student get a scholarship to go to a university that they really wanted to attend, and I realized that while that may be only one person, but that helps change their life, and how many people's lives would they change? And so that was when I realized that even the smallest of actions can have really big ripple effects.

Quinn:                                  I love it. Who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?

Michelle Lucas:                 Oh, somebody in my life that has positively impacted my work life. Astronaut Don Thomas. We have this very strange connection. I met him 20 years ago when he came back from STS-83. He didn't remember me. I found the picture. Of course, we look exactly the same now as we did then. He is a huge STEM advocate. He flew in space four times, and he is someone who is always encouraging me to never give up, no matter how bad of a day I'm having, because while I sound like busy sunshine, and all is well, there are days that like, "Oh, can I keep doing this?"

Michelle Lucas:                 And his passion for inspiring students all across the globe inspires me on a daily basis. And his willingness to support Higher Orbits positively impacts me and this organization in ways that I'll never be able to repay him, and so I would say astronaut Don Thomas.

Quinn:                                  That is super awesome, super awesome. One of these days, we're going to get a podcast with someone who's floating up ... Is it 217 miles above us? One of these days.

Brian:                                    We're going to do it.

Quinn:                                  I should probably fix the computer, first.

Brian:                                    Priorities, priorities.

Michelle Lucas:                 Minor details.

Brian:                                    Hey, what do you do when you feel overwhelmed, Michelle? Specifically.

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, for me, specifically, my first thing is, I'm a venter. I need to get it out and kind of, "Ah." And then I eat a donut with sprinkles, or a cupcake, because I eat my feelings. And then, I buckle down. I let myself have that time, that little bit of a pity party, or that little bit of venting frustration. And then I remind myself why I do what I do. And I have some beautiful emails from parents and students that, sometimes, I'll pull out.

Michelle Lucas:                 But at the end of the day, I think we all get frustrated, and I think that's normal. And I think to say it's not okay to do that actually defeats the greater purpose. You got to get that out. And so I get it out, and then I just [inaudible] myself back in, and I remember the amazing students that I have the great fortune to work with, and these students inspire me every day. I have a gal who came into the program, and if you'd asked her what she wanted to do, she would've told you she was going to be a professional lacrosse player.

Michelle Lucas:                 Okay, look, I didn't know they had professional lacrosse for men, nevertheless women. But that was her thing. And now, she is applying to go to a school to study aerospace engineering, and she was our first ever space camp scholarship winner. And I look at what she is accomplishing, and I realize that I was very fortunate for my orbit to have crossed with hers, and to have been able to play a little part in that. And so, after I have my cupcake and my cry or my wine, I pick myself up and I remind myself of things like that.

Michelle Lucas:                 I live by that failure must be an option, in fact, that's the topic of my TEDx talk I did last year, but you only truly fail when you give up. And so I hit road block, and I eat my cupcake, and then I just keep pushing on.

Quinn:                                  All that is very moving and important, but my real question is, if you had to pick one, cupcake or wine, which is it?

Michelle Lucas:                 Oh, God. You just asked me the most impossible question. I got to go with wine. Going without cupcakes would kill me, but going without wine, I just don't think I can do it. I'm not built that way.

Brian:                                    All right. I was going to ask you a follow up about donuts, but we already got the wine thing, so it's fine.

Quinn:                                  It's fine.

Michelle Lucas:                 Donut with white icing and sprinkles. Got to have sprinkles. Got to have sprinkles.

Brian:                                    That's what I wanted to know. Amazing. Thank you.

Quinn:                                  Did you tell her about the one we get from downstairs?

Brian:                                    We get a donut from the coffee shop downstairs. Every podcast. It's a Samoa donut.

Quinn:                                  You know Girl Scout cookies, the Samoas? It tastes like that, but it's a donut.

Michelle Lucas:                 Is that coconut and caramel?

Brian:                                    It's phenomenal.

Quinn:                                  And I never even want it, and Brian goes, "We'll have one of those," and I'm like, "Well, fine."

Brian:                                    I take donut over wine any day.

Quinn:                                  Yeah, I think so.

Michelle Lucas:                 Okay, well, now I know what to show up with when I show up to your office.

Brian:                                    Yeah, exactly.

Quinn:                                  You don't want to come here.

Brian:                                    Just a couple more, Michelle. Michelle, how do you consume the news?

Michelle Lucas:                 If I'm very honest, lately, very carefully, because I just get so angry at the news these days that I take it in small doses. I try and read a variety of different ... What's the word I'm looking for? Sources. But it's all online. That's about the only way. We get a local paper to our houses, so I get some local news that way, but in general, I go to specific websites. I turn on the TV sometimes. Once I hear a topic that I'm interested in, I try and dig into that specifically, and I purposely try and go to four or five different sources, so I'm not just hearing what I think I want to hear.

Brian:                                    Yeah. Got to. All right, if you could Amazon Prime one book to Donald Trump, what book would it be?

Michelle Lucas:                 Oh my God. Don't ask me questions like this. My students might listen to this.

Brian:                                    I hope so.

Michelle Lucas:                 If I could Amazon Prime ... Yeah, but which means I should probably be careful in how I answer this.

Brian:                                    Got it, got it.

Michelle Lucas:                 I would probably Amazon Prime him The Right Stuff. Because it's such a story of being willing to be trailblazers and start something big and new, and it's one of my favorite books, and it's quintessential the beginning of the space program, and the space race. And I am excited that this administration is behind us going to the moon by 2024, and I think we have to embrace some of the mentality of the original Mercury Seven when it comes to flying in space. Because it's not always going to go the way we expect it to, and so, I think I would say The Right Stuff.

Brian:                                    Awesome answer.

Quinn:                                  Such a good one.

Brian:                                    This can be quick, but you've basically forced me to ask you, which Big Bang Theory character are you?

Michelle Lucas:                 I actually think I'm Penny. It's funny, because I have people say they think I'm smart, which I would debate. I don't know that I am. I think I'm a lot more street smart than I am book smart, so I'm going to go with Penny. I'm not as cute as she is, though.

Quinn:                                  We're just going to stay out of that one entirely.

Michelle Lucas:                 See, I set you up on that one.

Brian:                                    Yes, yes you did.

Quinn:                                  Way to go, Brian.

Brian:                                    Sorry. Well done.

Quinn:                                  Jesus. 68 episodes, it was a good run. Hey, where can our listeners follow you online in a professional ...? You know, not follow you, follow you, but you know what I mean. Like the kids say.

Michelle Lucas:                 Yeah, stalking is generally inappropriate, but hey, it's all good. So www.higherorbits.org. We are also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, Higher Orbits. H-I-G-H-E-R O-R-B-I-T-S. And I have a Twitter handle, Spacechelle. S-P-A-C-E-C-H-E-L-L-E. And so those are all the places you can find us.

Quinn:                                  That is awesome. Well, we just want to thank you for your time. Thank you for all that you've done, all that you do and all that you're going to do, changing the world, changing the universe out there. Brian, she specifically asked us not to sing "Happy Birthday." Should we?

Brian:                                    Probably.

Quinn:                                  Should we do it? How far through "Happy Birthday" till she hangs up?

Brian:                                    Till she just hangs up?

Quinn:                                  Yeah. Till she starts just taking that wine down.

Brian:                                    I think not far.

Michelle Lucas:                 I need a glass of wine for this, I think.

Quinn:                                  Okay, are you ready?

Brian:                                    Oh, we are?

Quinn:                                  Yeah, we're doing it.

Brian:                                    Oh, God.

Quinn:                                  Ready?

Brian:                                    Yes.

Quinn:                                  One, two, three, go.

Quinn:                                  (Singing)

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, it's my first ever podcast, and my first ever "Happy Birthday" on a podcast. So thanks, I think.

Quinn:                                  Well, we all make mistakes, Michelle. Brian is definitely the one that was in tune on that one, he was part of a fake boy band for a little while.

Brian:                                    That is true.

Quinn:                                  I'll send you links. It's pretty fantastic.

Michelle Lucas:                 Excellent.

Quinn:                                  Michelle, thank you. Have an awesome birthday. Thank you for all that you're doing, and we'll talk to you soon, all right?

Michelle Lucas:                 Sounds great. Thanks, guys.

Quinn:                                  All right, thanks.

Brian:                                    Thank you, have a great one.

Quinn:                                  Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute, or awesome workout, or dish washing, or fucking dog walking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.

Brian:                                    And you can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on Twitter @ImportantNotImp. So weird. Also on Facebook and Instagram, at Important, Not Important, Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. So check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal. And please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this. And if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcast. Keep the lights on, thanks.

Quinn:                                  Please.

Brian:                                    And you can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website, Importantnotimportant.com.

Quinn:                                  Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blaine for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.

Brian:                                    Thanks, guys.

 Quinn:                                  Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.

Brian:                                    And I'm Brian Colbert Kennedy. And this is the podcast where we dive into a specific topic or question affecting everyone on the planet right now or in the next ten years or so, if it can kill us or bring us the food replicator from Star Trek, we're in. Our guests are scientists, doctors, engineers, politicians, astronauts, we had a Reverend, and more. And we work together toward action steps that our listeners can take with their voice, their vote, and their dollar.

Quinn:                                  This is your friendly reminder that you can send us questions, thoughts, feedback, dreams. What are those dreamcatchers? Remember those things you make in art class?

Brian:                                    Oh yeah, hang them on the wall above your bed.

Quinn:                                  You could send us one of those. You can't send it over Twitter, but you can send us the other stuff at Twitter @ImportantNotImp, or you can email us at funtalk@importantnotimportant.com. You can also join thousands of other smart people and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter at Importantnotimportant.com.

Brian:                                    This week's episode is-

Quinn:                                  Tell them what we're doing.

Brian:                                    Talking about sending homework into space, which is not an excuse to not do your homework, it's a reason to definitely do your homework.

Quinn:                                  Right. First one I've ever had, really.

Brian:                                    Right.

Quinn:                                  Our guest is Michelle Lucas, and boy, she loves wine, and TV, and cupcakes, and teaching real astronauts, which was her job, she taught astronauts, which is something that you do. Even more than all that, teaching young people who aren't astronauts yet but might be someday because of her.

Brian:                                    Yeah.

Quinn:                                  This is a fun one.

Brian:                                    Let's listen to it.

Quinn:                                  Okay.

Quinn:                                  Our guest today is Michelle Lucas, and together, we're talking about ... Hey, Brian. Your homework is going to get shot into space, where astronauts will finish it. Question. Are you more likely to actually do your homework, now?

Brian:                                    Is this rhetorical or no?

Quinn:                                  It's both.

Brian:                                    Yes.

Quinn:                                  Okay, great. Let's talk about it. Michelle, welcome.

Michelle Lucas:                 Hi, guys. Thanks for having me.

Quinn:                                  For sure.

Brian:                                    We're so pumped to have you.

Quinn:                                  Happy birthday.

Brian:                                    Happy birthday.

Michelle Lucas:                 Thank you. This is a pretty stellar way to spend my birthday, I'm not going to lie. Talking with you guys is fun.

Quinn:                                  Give it a little bit.

Brian:                                    You've spoken too soon. No, no. Okay, Michelle, just tell everybody who you are and what you do.

Michelle Lucas:                 So, the 30 second version is, my name is Michelle Lucas, I am the founder and President of Higher Orbits, a 501 c 3 nonprofit that uses space to get kids more interested in science, technology, engineering, and math, and I come from a space background. I worked in the space industry, in a technical field, prior to doing this.

Quinn:                                  Awesome.

Brian:                                    Awesome.

Quinn:                                  That sounds amazing.

Brian:                                    I mean, seriously.

Quinn:                                  We don't usually dig into ... Let's just do it now. We don't usually dig into, like, "Tell us your whole life story," but I would love to hear a little bit about, because you were just mentioning off air, you are not the typical white gentleman at NASA or in the space industry. Could you just tell us a little bit about your credentials and how you got there, and what your past involved? Not the creepy stuff, but the important stuff.

Brian:                                    The good stuff.

Michelle Lucas:                 Sure. So, I grew up on the South side of Chicago, and I fell in love with space when I was a little girl, and people looked at me like I was crazy, because what's this little girl talking about space and wanting to work for NASA for? And it stuck with me for my entire childhood. I was lucky to get to go to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, I got to go to space camp-

Brian:                                    Such a great museum. My God.

Michelle Lucas:                 Isn't it awesome? I go back at least once a year. Yeah, we've established that we've got a Chicago connection and a Virginia connection here. This call was clearly meant to happen.

Brian:                                    Clearly.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so I went to college, and I studied aerospace engineering, and I studied communications. I then went to work at the Johnson Space Center in mission control. I was a flight controller for the International Space Station for a little while. I was also a technical instructor for astronauts. All I ever wanted to do was work in the space industry, and I felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to literally live my dream.

Michelle Lucas:                 Doing all of those things was phenomenal. I worked with crews that were on the space shuttle. I worked with crews that flew on the Space Station. I worked with the underwater crews. And then life kind of changed, and I started doing some consulting away from NASA. Started doing some educational outreach, and just fell in love with working with students, and that's how Higher Orbits came to be.

Michelle Lucas:                 So my background is actually technical, in mission operations, and if you had told me six years ago that I would be running an educational nonprofit, I'd have told you you'd lost your fricking mind. But I love it, and can't imagine doing anything else.

Quinn:                                  That's super cool. I feel like Brian feels the same way every time he walks into our office, which is, he's really got to live our dream, which is coming to a small, above a liquor shop studio city office to record a podcast.

Brian:                                    Yeah. Every single time I'm here.

Quinn:                                  Very technical background as well.

Michelle Lucas:                 Hey, what I'm hearing is location, location, location. So whatever.

Quinn:                                  Until the wildfires just sweep it all away. That is so cool. I've got a horde a children. I took my oldest to see the Apollo 11 documentary in the theater on the last day, because I just felt like, what an amazing opportunity, and now, he's totally hooked. We watched part of Apollo 13 the other day, because I was like, "Look, man, it doesn't always go well."

Michelle Lucas:                 Awesome.

Quinn:                                  What's amazing, he was in the middle of his nap time, so I said, "You don't have to nap. You get to watch this." And shortly after, "Houston, we have a problem," he looked at me and goes, "Hey, man, listen, this is really great, and I hope they make it, but I got to sleep. I'm exhausted." And I was like, "Cool, man. You do you." But he's into it. He's really into it, and it's just the coolest. It is.

Michelle Lucas:                 That's fantastic. Well, I say there are always two things that kids love. Space and dinosaurs. And I don't know anything about dinosaurs other than a couple of the key ones. I know Sue the T. Rex, and I know what a brontosaurus is, but space? I can talk space. And so, that's part of why I love to do what I do.

Quinn:                                  Awesome. I cannot wait to hear more about this.

Brian:                                    Yeah. All right, Michelle, so what we're going to do, Quinn's going to go over some what he thinks he knows about what you do, it's going to be hilarious.

Quinn:                                  Jesus, way to serve it on up.

Brian:                                    Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, we're having fun today. Yeah, we're going to go over some context for our question here, and what we're talking about, and then get into some action-oriented questions that we can ... Pardon me. That we can ask to get to the heart of why we should care about what you do. Does that sound good?

Michelle Lucas:                 Sure. Absolutely.

Quinn:                                  All right. So, Michelle, you cheated and listened to some of our earlier episodes, or one, or I don't know. I can say you can never get that time back. But we'd like to start with one important question. On your birthday, instead of saying, "Tell us the rest of your entire life story," Michelle, why are you vital to the survival of our species?

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, that's a tough question, and I did hear you ask that in the podcast I listened to. You know, at the end of the day, I think every one of us has some geek in us. Some more than others. And I think that, by encouraging people to embrace their inner geek, which is a lot of what I do with students, is how our species not only survives, but thrives. And so, I think my unofficial mission of trying to get students to embrace their inner geek, because it opens up so many possibilities, is hopefully how I'm helping the survival of our species.

Quinn:                                  I think that sounds pretty great.

Brian:                                    Yeah. I wish somebody would've done that for me when I was a kid.

Quinn:                                  Well, that's a lot of what we're talking about.

Michelle Lucas:                 Same, same.

Quinn:                                  Would this have gotten you to actually do your homework?

Brian:                                    Hell yes.

Quinn:                                  And again, I was nowhere near the world's best student. It was sports, and I thought science was cool and everything, and I grew up on Star Trek, all the things. It's all great. But ah, man, there was sports and ladies and just not doing homework, not even that I was doing anything, sleeping. But if someone's like, "We're going to shoot it into space," well, that's a different question entirely.

Quinn:                                  Anyways. All right, so today, we're talking about getting more folks, and specifically more kids, into STEM science, technology, engineering, mathematics. We have, relative to the rest of the world, and just where we should be in general, clearly, you can see that in our elected representatives, we fall in a bit behind.

Quinn:                                  But not just more kids. We're looking for kids who aren't usually involved in STEM, for a huge variety of stupid reasons. Right? Women, young women, girls, minorities. We have done, collectively, a pretty piss poor job of getting them into STEM, for, again, a huge variety of reasons. It's too expensive, it's not in every school, we were late to the game, our public schools are a mess, we have a huge lack of properly trained educators. What did Sally Wright say? "You can't be what you can't see." Yadda yadda.

Quinn:                                  So, in 2006, President Bush announced [inaudible] called the American Competitiveness Initiative, to strengthen science and tech education in the name of advancing innovation. A few years later, President Obama unveiled a program to train 100,000 new STEM teachers, attract more girls and minorities into the fields. We've got tons of companies involved on a huge scale, from Apple and Google and Microsoft. We've got groups like the Girl Scouts involved, and we've got more quote unquote "Niche" sort of groups, like yours, doing a variety of different things, from Code For America, Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, and so much more.

Quinn:                                  Coding itself, the problem is, is not going to save the day. We know that. That's going to change quickly. Silicon Valley isn't going to ... And starting a software firm or chat app in your garage is not going to save the day, or get these people into a more equal and just economic situation, right, much less advanced science. We need hands-on engineers and scientists who are going to build the next solar panels, and wind turbines, and satellites.

Quinn:                                  And STEM jobs are among the fastest growing middle and upper income occupations in America. Pew found that employment in STEM fields has grown by 79% since 1990, and compare with 34% for all the other occupations. But women's representation in computer jobs has actually declined since 1990, which is just perfect. Blacks and Hispanics continue to be under-representative at nine and seven percent STEM workers, and the ones that are there all, rightfully, complain that they experience workplace discrimination.

Quinn:                                  So, this is why we can't have nice things, because we, and I mean literally you and me, Brian, white guys, we've ruined it. So we need to involve these folks proactively. We need to get into their schools, offer programs like these, to get them doing it early, but to help them see people that they can relate to, to light the fire, to encourage them, to support them.

Quinn:                                  So, that's what I want to talk about today, is, Brian, if I told you we were going to shoot your homework into space, because you won a competition, whatever these variety of reasons are, would you be more likely to do it? Michelle, what was, you said, if we looked back six years ago and said, "You're going to be running this space education nonprofit," you'd have said, "No way, man." What was the thing that lit your fire to make this move? How did you get here?

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, as I said, I've loved space my whole life, and I came from a area that, let's face it, most students in my area weren't going to college. Certainly, very few of them were studying engineering. In fact, when I said I was going to study engineering, because I originally wanted to go to the military academy and fly, [crosstalk] happened, I wasn't real sure. Like, "Oh, I want to fly airplanes, but that whole war thing, I don't know that I can handle that. So, okay, wait. So what do I do? Go be an engineer."

Michelle Lucas:                 I'd never met an engineer. I didn't know what the heck that meant. And it didn't help that my brother was telling everyone, "Oh, my sister's going to go drive trains." Because, to him, that's what an engineer was.

Quinn:                                  Which is understandable.

Brian:                                    Right.

Michelle Lucas:                 Right. As you mentioned, Sally Wright said, "You can't be what you don't see." Sometimes some of us can manage to get past that, and I was fortunate in that case, but I found out about this lovely place that you guys have probably heard of, and if you haven't been, you have to go, because it's available for adults, too. Space camp.

Quinn:                                  Man, I want to go to space camp so fucking bad.

Michelle Lucas:                 Dude, they have adult space camp. You so have to go, and when you go, let me know. Because I'm going to come visit you. Well, maybe not. But we'll see. [crosstalk]

Quinn:                                  Wait, now it's out there. There's thousands of people that just heard you say that. No, I definitely-

Michelle Lucas:                 Now I'm held accountable.

Quinn:                                  Let me ask, is it as awesome as I hope it is?

Michelle Lucas:                 Oh, it totally is. And I sound like I'm digressing, but that's really the benefit of why I decided to do what I'm doing. As a kid, I wanted to go to space camp, and we couldn't afford it. My mom's response, so it wasn't exactly this, to paraphrase, was, "It sounds awesome, honey, but I'm pretty sure it's more than five bucks, so I'm pretty sure we can't afford it."

Michelle Lucas:                 And I applied for a scholarship, and I got to attend space camp on scholarship. So, fast forward, I've gone to college, and I've worked in dream jobs, and I'm loving what I'm doing, and I feel this urge to give back, because I got to where I got because of the help of others. And, yeah, I could just raise money for scholarships, and that's great, but I wanted to be able to bring a space-inspired kind of camp to what I call the backyard of people's community.

Michelle Lucas:                 So that way, people didn't have to travel, and they would have the opportunity to be inspired by space like I was. Because space inspires whether you are five or 95. My grandfather, who passed last year, would call me on a semi-regular basis and be like, "Honey, what's this about this mission that's going to go to the sun?" Or things like that. At 90-something, he was still inspired by space.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so that's really how it all came to be. I wanted to give back, like others had given back in a way that changed my life. And the way for me to do that was in the field that I love and think can inspire so many.

Quinn:                                  That's amazing. You know you're earning it and you're doing it when Grandpa's calling and asking about those things. Because you've provided that link. It's personal now.

Michelle Lucas:                 Yep.

Brian:                                    Wow, that's cool.

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, and it's very interesting, because my whole family, they're all amazing. They follow along in the space industry, and my aunt, my mom. And so, because of me being passionate about it from the time I was a young kid, it involved all of them as well, because I loved it so much. And this is how we change the world with respect to meeting more students studying STEM.

Michelle Lucas:                 When you can get one person super excited about it, they can excite everyone around them, and that makes everyone around them more aware of opportunities, and how they can help students, and helping to get their representatives to pass legislation that is STEM-friendly. And so, I really believe that using space as that platform is a great way to, in some ways, I know it sounds Pollyanna, but in a lot of ways, it's a great way to change the world for the better.

Quinn:                                  It's not Pollyanna. It's necessary. Besides being awesome, it is necessary in a number of ways. Again, you could go down a huge variety of rabbit holes on this, but we have some serious problems we need to fix to also look at all the modern day conveniences that have come out of our space research and the space industry that, basically, everyone takes for granted, even if they know that it came from there. And then they [crosstalk] when NASA gets another half cent on the dollar.

Michelle Lucas:                 Right. Well, you'd be amazed how many people say, "Well, what do I need space for?" As they're looking at Google Maps on their phone or something. I'm like, "Come on. Do you not understand? It touches every element of our life today."

Quinn:                                  GPS is telling them where to go.

Michelle Lucas:                 Yeah.

Brian:                                    I just watched a little Ricky Gervais standup, and he was talking about people giving him shit about, "I don't need science," and he's like, "You're tweeting at me because of science. What are you talking about? You would be nothing without it." Crazy.

Brian:                                    So, okay, Michelle, you mentioned how you possibly, with your sparkly nails and such, there's people that probably look at you and say, "Oh, what is she doing here? She doesn't fit in." And that's super important. Was there ever a time that you felt that you needed to dial it back or change or be different?

Michelle Lucas:                 Oh my gosh, you are asking the $20 million question, and when I run events with students, I tell them my story, and I used to be very uncomfortable doing it, and astronaut Don Thomas encouraged me, "Look, you need to share, because the journey is what people connect with."

Michelle Lucas:                 So, let me go back a little bit further than dialing it back. When I was in elementary and middle school, all I wanted to talk about was space. I was the geek who wanted to talk about the rockets and the space shuttles. I wasn't that interested in boys quite yet. I was into sports, but I didn't want to talk about the other things that normal kids talk about.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so I was weird. I didn't fit in, and I was incredibly, incredibly bulled in middle school. I talk to kids, I'm like, "Yeah, I was the kid who was literally shoved in the lockers." And they look at me now, and they're like, "I don't believe you." I'm like, "Well, go ask my mom. I used to cry because I didn't want to go to school. I hated it so much."

Michelle Lucas:                 And I started to doubt myself with respect to, "Well, maybe I should be more like everybody. Maybe I should quit being a geek." And then I went to space camp, and that's where I say I found my pride. I found other students who were like me, and I realized that it was okay to be me, it was okay to be a geek. And that's not to say that it made school any easier, because I still got shoved into lockers, but it did help me cope a little bit better.

Michelle Lucas:                 So fast forward. I get into the work industry, and I did dial it back. I was kind of a typical khakis and polo, which is what everybody wears at NASA, had to fit in. To blend in. And it took me going out on my own and being able to just answer to myself, with running my own company, to say, "You know what? I like fashion, and I like my nails to be sparkly, and I like cool handbags and purses and shoes. And that's me, and you know what? I'm going to embrace that, because guess what?"

Michelle Lucas:                 You know what every teenage girl ... Okay, maybe not every, I shouldn't quite be that broad, most teenage girls, what do they want to look like? Kim Kardashian, or pick your celeb. So why can't we show them that you can be fashionable and smart at the same time? Now, we can debate whether my fashionable is really fashionable or not. It's Michelle fashion, and I'm cool with that. Half of my closet has star clothes in it.

Brian:                                    Hey, stars are cool.

Michelle Lucas:                 Stars are awesome. And so, I just started embracing it, and it's interesting, because I've gotten as much pushback from women as I do from men. I've had a lot of women push back of, "You need to quit drawing attention, you need to fit in. You don't want them to come talk to you just because you look like you look." I'm like, "That's fine. If they want to come over here because I'm wearing a dress instead of something that makes me look doubty, great. Because it's going to take them about 30 seconds to find out I know my shit, and then let's keep moving."

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, I think it's important, again, to go back to Sally Wright's quote, people can't be what they can't see, well, guess what? If we are worried about teenage girls getting more interested in being STEM-focused, or, quite frankly, just being willing to be smart, because they're worried that the boys will make fun of them, but they also want to care about fashion, we have to show them people who say, "Hey, you can do both. They don't have to be mutually exclusive."

Quinn:                                  And I think that's so important, because we did mention above, of the women and minorities who are in the industry, or the variety of industries under the STEM umbrella, most of them have reported workplace discrimination in some way or another, whether it's informal or formal or how outright it might be.

Quinn:                                  I don't think it surprises anyone at this point, but it's not just about putting the resources in the classroom, or having these nonprofits. It's okay, now those are there. How do we make people feel comfortable doing it, being themselves, so they don't go like, "Christ, I got to go buy four pairs of khakis, and four white polos," to be themselves and bring it to them, because that's how we end up with a much wider variety of perspectives without it being beaten out of them.

Michelle Lucas:                 Absolutely. And our unique talents, and our unique personalities, are what make us good at the things we do. And so my presentation to students is embracing your inner geek. And whatever that means to you, but then also just embracing being you. Now, I will tell you that I have been so fortunate. Yeah, I have some horror stories. Everybody does. But there are jerks out there in the world whether you're male or female, the color of your skin, whatever.

Michelle Lucas:                 But I can tell you that my experience in the space industry is that I had a lot of female colleagues. I have a lot of female colleagues. Especially in the human space flight realm, working at Johnson Space Center. I never felt like I was treated as lesser because I was a woman. People might've looked at me a little odd when I showed up with my big sparkly nails, but it didn't take long for them to be like, "Okay, everything's fine."

Michelle Lucas:                 But I do want us to be careful. It's actually very personal to me. We can go too far the other way. We all do have to work together at the end of the day, and with my nonprofit, I work with high school aged girls and boys. And I'm seeing that high school boys are feeling very kind of alienated in some ways, because they're like, "Hey, wait, I didn't do anything wrong. Why am I the bad guy all of a sudden?"

Quinn:                                  Sure. It's like original sin.

Michelle Lucas:                 Exactly. And so I think it's just really important that we remember that the sins of our fathers, shall we say, are not the sins of the children, and so I think that 20-year-olds and early 30-year-olds, people are a lot more accepting of a lot. The old regime is kind of on the way out, and let's chase it.

Quinn:                                  Thank God.

Michelle Lucas:                 40 years ago, no, women didn't have a seat at the table in aerospace. And I speak to aerospace because that's my world. But we've had a seat at the table for quite a while, and the people who are at the top are maybe not evolving as fast as we would like, because they come from that old guard, but the younger managers, I have high hopes. I really, really have high hopes for things in the workplace.

Quinn:                                  It's great to hear, and we're seeing it across industries wherever you look, which is the baby boomers, besides having ruined everything, are getting older. They're retiring, or they're having a hard time letting go, or blaming millennials for more or less everything, much less generation Z. But there is a hell of a tide of change coming, so hopefully that just makes the whole situation for boys and girls and everything in between much more receptive.

Michelle Lucas:                 Absolutely.

Brian:                                    It's going to be nice. All right, so, let's talk about Higher Orbits, your business, how it works. You've obviously got some connections in the industry, but how does one work with NASA to build a relationship like yours and to build your company? And is it typical? Is NASA open to more relationships like this?

Michelle Lucas:                 So, with Higher Orbits, we run a program called Go For Launch, where students compete to have their science [inaudible] to the International Space Station. And, much to everybody's surprise, I don't actually work directly with NASA to make that happen. With the commercialization of space, the opportunity to put things on the International Space Station is much more open than it ever has been.

Michelle Lucas:                 If you tried to fly experiments to the Space Station, let's say, even 10 years ago, under the way regulations were set up, the process was set up, it would take forever. In fact, my first job when I worked at Johnson Space Center starting in 2000 was, I sat on the [inaudible] review panel for this safety, reliability and quality assurance contract. That's a mouthful. And the process was just ... Honestly, it was painful. And it would be impossible as an outsider to come in without some help, and it takes years.

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, with the size increase of the International Space Station, and commercialization, there are partners that sign what are called space act agreements, where you can work with these partners and get your science flown to space. So we work with a company called Space Tango out of Lexington, Kentucky, and they are our integrators. So we've signed contracts with them, they've signed space act agreements with the Center of Advancement for Science and Space, which is who manages half of the International Space Station in cooperation with NASA. I know, it's very convoluted, right? The flowchart.

Brian:                                    This is great.

Michelle Lucas:                 I'll give you some crayons. Will that help?

Brian:                                    Perfect.

Michelle Lucas:                 So, it becomes, effectively, a pay to play. If you have money, you can fly science on board the International Space Station. And so we are fortunate to work with Space Tango. For a fee, we work with them, they build the payload, they take it through the safety process, they get it manifested, meaning get it scheduled to be launched, get it on the rocket, and send it up to the International Space Station.

Michelle Lucas:                 And we have done that in a timeframe as short as six months, from us giving them the experiment idea to the launch of the experiment, and that's unheard of in some ways. Think about it, it probably takes you six months to, I don't know, do some major project at your house, nevertheless off the planet. Right?

Brian:                                    Oh, absolutely. That is wildly fast for space.

Michelle Lucas:                 It's exciting. It's one of those things that, it's science fiction, in some ways, becoming science fact. And being able to send student science to the International Space Station, talk about changing your world. You guys are joking about doing your homework, but it's not really a joke. When you open up the possibilities like this, it does make students more inclined to do their homework, or study STEM, or just be more engaged.

Brian:                                    That's wild.

Quinn:                                  That's so rad. I'm just sitting here thinking. So, can you tell us a little bit about some of the stuff that's been sent up there?

Michelle Lucas:                 Yeah. And so, for context, all of these experiments, with the exception of one, are students in grades eight through 12. We did do one middle school program, but all the rest have been high school. And so the ideas are completely up to the students. Now, we do give them some parameters. It has to fit inside a four inch cube, they're not allowed to blow anything up. Yeah, I would have to give you guys that parameter. I can see you guys, you want to explode things, set things on fire, we can't do those things.

Brian:                                    I started thinking about that right as you [crosstalk 00:29:07].

Quinn:                                  Michelle, I don't appreciate your sweeping generalizations. Just because you've known us for 20 ... What are we at? 28 minutes.

Brian:                                    Your true sweeping generalizations.

Michelle Lucas:                 20 minutes? Am I wrong?

Quinn:                                  Mm-mm (negative). Not at all. Not at all.

Michelle Lucas:                 Okay, okay.

Quinn:                                  I was saying to my wife the other day, I have two boys and a girl, and again, this is a sweeping generalization that is not true, but my girl, who's in the middle, looks at her brothers like, "What is wrong with you? Why is your gut instinct like, 'Knock this down, physicality, grunting, blow things up?' I just don't understand." And it's just like, "How did that happen?" Anyways. Yeah.

Michelle Lucas:                 It's part of the DNA, apparently, I guess. So that's why I have to say, "You can't blow anything up. No, we can't fly Ebola," and they can't fly animals like mice, or anything with a backbone. But other than that, it's up to them. And so we've had a wide range. We've had everything from ... We flew bees last summer. We flew some bees. We had flown radiation-eating fungus. Who knew that was a thing? Not me.

Brian:                                    Wow. I want to know about that.

Michelle Lucas:                 Some students from Durham, right? We have flown a radiation experiment where they were testing some radiation shielding on E. coli. We've done some biology, we did a plants experiment on nitrogen fixation in plants. And so, as you can see ... Mealworms. So, as you can see, they're kind of all over the board, and that's what's so exciting to me, is, these students, if you give them the opportunity, they come up with some amazing ideas.

Michelle Lucas:                 I'll tell you what, I'm glad I don't have to compete with them, because I could never think of ideas as good as theirs are. And I have no knowledge in depth on any of these experiments. These are truly the students' experiment, and their idea, and I do my best to not interfere, because I'll just mess it up. They're going to do awesome. All they need is for me to go, "Okay, is this safe? Is that safe? Have you thought about this?"

Michelle Lucas:                 But if I got into the nitty gritty with them, I'd just mess it up, because their ability to think outside the box, which I know is ironic, because I'm making them put it inside a box, but their ability to think outside the box is one of the great strengths that they have that, unfortunately, at some point, we end up beating out of them through school and college and work.

Brian:                                    I can't imagine, as a 16-year-old, what I would suggest that we send to the Space Station.

Quinn:                                  I can't imagine now, as a 35-year-old, what you would suggest that we send.

Brian:                                    Yeah, [inaudible 00:31:43].

Quinn:                                  That is so cool. So, just some quick practicals, where is your program, how does one get into your program? Is it by school, is it by student? Is it application based?

Michelle Lucas:                 So, we run this program all across the country, and you can find out the cities that we'll be in on our website, Higherorbits.org, and it's orbits with an S, as in a planetary orbit, not that travel website kind of orbit.

Brian:                                    Oh, got it.

Michelle Lucas:                 And we work with a variety of hosts. We've been everywhere from, we've been in the Frontiers of Flight Museum, we've been in the San Diego Air and Space Museum, we've worked with universities and high schools, we [inaudible] University, we've been at Watkins Memorial in Pataskala, Ohio. And we've also been in the gym of the Boys and Girls Club of [inaudible] Massachusetts. And so we are very flexible, and we work with a wide variety of folks.

Michelle Lucas:                 From an application perspective, anybody who wants to attend who fits the grade range is welcome to attend. It is not a, you have to be this superstar to get in. We run between 15 and 20 programs a year, and we're always adding new programs as we can. Our goal is not to turn everybody into a rocket scientist, though being a rocket scientist is certainly cool. But we want to use space as a way to show students the myriad of opportunities that exist if they're willing to put some effort into the STEM subjects.

Michelle Lucas:                 And there's great programs out there, like you mentioned, the coding programs, and there's Team America Rocketry Challenge, and Zero Robotics, and things like that. Our goal with Go For Launch is to, yes, reach the students who already are interested in space and STEM, but I'm even more interested in the kids who are like, "You know what, science sucks, but hanging out with an astronaut for two days, well, that would be cool."

Quinn:                                  You can call your bluff on anybody, right? Anyone who's like, "I don't want to hang out with an astronaut," it's like, "Well, you're incorrect."

Michelle Lucas:                 Yes, exactly. Exactly. And so, we've been fortunate to be able to reach a wide variety of students. And some of my favorite stories are not necessarily the STEM rockstars that come in. I was in Massachusetts, and I had a parent walk in with her two boys, and she's like, "Oh, boy, we'll see how this goes." And I looked at her, I'm like, "What do you mean?" And she's like, "Well, you know, they just like video games and football, but I'm making them come to this."

Michelle Lucas:                 Of course, in the back of my mind, I'm like, "Oh, boy. How is this going to go? How is this day going to go?" And the boys were both great, and they asked awesome questions of the astronaut that was there, and everything is done in teams, and so they worked really well with their team, and they didn't know two of the kids who was on their team.

Michelle Lucas:                 Day ends, blah blah blah, come in the next morning, and the mom walks in again and goes, "What did you do?" And I'm like, "Oh, shit. What did I do? Did I say something? Did I say something I'm not supposed to? Because I'm really good about not cussing in front of the students, but maybe I slipped, I don't know." And she's like, "Last night," she goes, "Normally, at dinner, the answers are 'Fine,' 'Okay,' 'Yes,' but I couldn't get them to shut up for an hour and a half. They wanted to tell me about how the astronaut said this, and Ms. Michelle said this, and did you know, on a space walk, blah blah blah? They wouldn't shut up."

Quinn:                                  Man, that's cool.

Brian:                                    It's the coolest subject in the world. Yeah, everybody loves it.

Michelle Lucas:                 Exactly. And these were kids who were not necessarily very interested in STEM to start with, and so those are the stories that I love to tell, because people think, "Well, this program's not for my kid, because my kid doesn't like science." Well, I'm going to tell you you're wrong. This is exactly the program for your kid if they don't like science or math, because maybe they'll realize, "Hey, what I think of as science and math, there's so much more out there as opportunity, I just don't know about it yet." And I hope to show them.

Quinn:                                  I love it. What a tremendous effort. You said 15, 20 a year, I think you said. How do you decide where to actually go and where to host those? Do places reach out to you? Do you pick them? Just for anyone out there who's like, "Boy, that would be fun at my school." How does that work?

Michelle Lucas:                 So, a little bit of both. It started off with me making connections with people that I knew across the country to hold the events. And our goal is to come back to the same cities year after year if we can, because we want to establish relationships. When Suzie comes to camp, but her little brother isn't quite old enough, we want to be there when he's old enough to go.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, we now, it's a variety of past locations that we've worked with, and people reaching out to us, saying, "Hey, we'd love to host." Obviously, there's a financial component that comes with this, and we work with partners and sponsors that help support that, but we are open to having this event anywhere that is interested. And like I said before, we're happy to be in fancy gigs, like a museum. We're also happy to be in the gym. We just want to reach as many students as we can.

Brian:                                    Do you ever feel compelled to go to, you know, Gary?

Michelle Lucas:                 Back to where I came from? I actually do. It's on my list of places to try and make work, even though it sounds crazy. The fact that I'm from there does not necessarily mean that everybody runs up and goes, "Hey, here's partnerships and sponsorships to help financially make this happen," and this is the kind of area that we do need the financial support. The program is a pay to play program, where students pay a fee to attend the event.

Michelle Lucas:                 Now, in some locations, like Durham, North Carolina, we had amazing support from the Durham Library Foundation, and no student paid to attend any of the six events that we had. And so, some locations, we need that so we can adequately reach folks. Now, other locations, they're a little bit more financially [inaudible 00:38:07], and we're able to get sponsorships to where students who have a financial barrier, we can give a scholarship to, but then the students who don't have that financial barrier, mom or dad can pay for it just like they do any other camp.

Quinn:                                  So, two questions. Literally, how much does it cost to put one of these on, and two, on a micro level, what is it, for the pay to play, what is sort of an entry fee to participate?

Michelle Lucas:                 So, I will give you the context of, in general, to fly a payload, the size of our payload into space, [inaudible] starting rate is about $55,000. So it's not cheap. And the part we haven't talked about that much is that there's an astronaut there for the whole event. Not like one talks, [inaudible] out the door, astronaut is there for the whole event.

Brian:                                    So cool.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, there's obviously a cost associated with that. There's other parameters that kind of depends. If you take a look at our website, you'll see that we run series of events, meaning that we're able to break apart the cost of the experiment launch over various events. And so, a single event, depending on a whole variety of parameters, can cost between 30 and $75,000 to run.

Michelle Lucas:                 We've had some places that wanted to guarantee a launch from their particular event, and that, obviously, ups the cost. But for a student to attend, I have worked really, really hard to keep this as low as we can, and consistent across all of the events. So a two-day event is $250, and our three-day events are $300. Now, that includes all supplies, and we feed them lunch, and snacks, and breakfast. You have kids. You know they're very food motivated. Oh, by the way, so are astronauts.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, it's on par with other STEM events. But our hope in 2020, especially, is to get to where we have the partner and sponsor support that no student's paying more than $50 to attend any of our events. So that's my big, huge goal, and I'm going to keep charging for it and hope that we can get there.

Quinn:                                  Brian is rifling through his wallet as we speak.

Brian:                                    Do you guys ... Go ahead, sorry.

Michelle Lucas:                 I don't know what to say. I believe every dollar helps, so Brian, even if you've got two bucks, I'll take it.

Brian:                                    Right? I don't.

Quinn:                                  Unclear if he has two bucks. There's nothing in the wallet.

Brian:                                    Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Quinn:                                  He just rifles through it every once in a while.

Brian:                                    I feel like that's a pretty ... Well. [crosstalk]

Quinn:                                  That's a totally different discussion.

Brian:                                    That seems like a really reasonable price.

Quinn:                                  Yeah, it does. The more we can get these corporations that pay zero taxes to come in and participate and help and do the right thing, the better, and I think that's a awesome goal. If you can get it down to 50 bucks, that's pretty spectacular.

Brian:                                    Michelle, do you offer freeze dried ice cream?

Michelle Lucas:                 It's so funny that you ask that, because every student loves the astronaut ice cream.

Brian:                                    It sticks in my head.

Quinn:                                  Brian's a child.

Brian:                                    I'm basically a child. I remember that so much. I'm pretty sure we had it at the Museum of Science and History. They sold it there, and you can walk around eating it.

Michelle Lucas:                 Absolutely. Absolutely. And so, they do different team challenges, where they're competing for what we call "Space Flag," and one of the Space Flag items is sometimes the ice cream. But you know, we never actually flew that in space. The astronauts don't actually eat that stuff.

Brian:                                    Well, I'm going to continue to believe that they do.

Quinn:                                  Yep, we're going to cut that part right out.

Brian:                                    Editing that out. They eat it, they love it.

Michelle Lucas:                 I'm sorry, I was totally mistaken. We'll just ignore that I said that. I was losing my mind.

Brian:                                    You're a monster. So, how do you think we can work to improve a broader STEM environment in public schools, for example? If you were secretary of education, where would you start? And obviously, funding varies state to state, and so does curricula, that's a whole other conversation we can have. But let's say you could create a race to the top that actually worked.

Michelle Lucas:                 Okay, so if I stay away from the monetary element of educational challenges, I'm amazed how many teachers I talk to that, they're so hindered by these state tests and having to teach to these stupid tests that they can't include curriculum that is interesting to the student. And space is one of those things that is frequently not taught, because it doesn't fit within whatever they're going to test on [inaudible 00:42:49].

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, I would do an overhaul of the whole concept of, "Look, we have to make science, math, interesting for students." Because, more than ever, they have a billion ways to entertain themselves that is not school, and so if we don't provide something that is entertaining in some way, or relevant, why would they embrace it?

Michelle Lucas:                 And the idea of just teaching from a book and not giving real world is just ... It doesn't work. We have to give students hands-on experiences that tie back to something that is meaningful to them in their daily lives. And, with a space perspective, come on, you've already mentioned Twitter, phones, GPS. And so showing students how things are relevant in their day-to-day life.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so I would take science and education in general and put it on it's side of, yeah, you need to know the facts, and the facts are important, but you also need to understand how it's relevant to your everyday life. Come on, you guys, you went through math class, or algebra, and you're like, "When is this ever going to matter? Why do I care?" And so you don't embrace it. You don't take it on.

Michelle Lucas:                 But if somebody could show you, "Okay, I know you think this sucks right now, and I'm not going to argue with you, because it kind of does, but you have to know this so that way you can be the person who is launching satellites that are going to help your phone work." Then it changes it for kids. Then it totally opens up the aperture of how they view things.

Michelle Lucas:                 And at the end of the day, the teacher from Ferris Bueller's Day Off that we've all had has got to go. We have to have teachers who are engaging and passionate, because that is how you get students to be engaged and passionate about these subjects.

Quinn:                                  Yeah. Obviously, we need to pay them a lot more to help them to be passionate-

Brian:                                    To motivate them.

Quinn:                                  -So they can not have to have 12 jobs and so incredible organizations like DonorsChoose don't even have to exist, because they shouldn't have to buy their own classroom supplies to make that practical connection in reality. Again, we can go down that hole, but I like where you're going with ...

Quinn:                                  Again, it comes back to if you can't see it, you can't be it. If you can't make that exciting connection, if we can't make that the standard in the classroom, that it has to be involved, it has to include visualizations and connections to real world applications, whether it's looking at it as, "Here's the list of opportunities it applies to," or, "Here's the list of real world problems it applies to."

Quinn:                                  We had a conversation in one of our previous episodes, one of our sort of side episodes, about how college majors and things like that need to change to be more oriented towards the real world. And so if you're not just a political science major, you might be a ...

Quinn:                                  Maybe not political science, but maybe it's like you're not a political science major, but you're majoring in India-Pakistan relations, and so you study sociology, and anthropology, and Indian history, and Pakistani history, and political science, and religion, and you study, you do a little military history and things like that so that you come to these things with a comprehensive understanding of like, "This is what's happening in the real world," or what could come, or what you could build.

Quinn:                                  It doesn't have to start in college or university, if we want to be European about it. But it does help kids. Again, kids are so much more connected to the world than they've ever been. They can go home and find out about this stuff. They can go on Wikipedia and find out about this shit and go, "Oh, that'd be cool. I have an idea." It just starts with like, "I have an idea." And they can't do that. It's not their fault if we don't put that in front of them.

Quinn:                                  So, kind of heading that way, I want to pivot a little bit here, which is, we have talked about it before, which is like, I am not a STEM major. Brian is definitely not a STEM major. I have no STEM background aside from, I've always loved science and technology, and I've turned that into writing sci-fi movies and TV and other stories and things like that, and building this little business to help people be aware of it, but there is a confluence there, which is turning it into writing. It's the A part in STEAM, the arts.

Quinn:                                  So we've talked about STEM, which is writing and philosophy and religion and political science and things like that, and anthropology and sociology. So while we clearly need to get so many more varied folks into STEM, part of our problem, a different problem, connected problem, is that some of the folks that are in STEM leadership positions these days, which is, again, ding ding ding, mostly white guys, and it's usually in the technology front, have more or less ignored the arts. And we are paying a hell of a price for that.

Quinn:                                  Well, they've broken society. Where's the chief liberal arts major executive to ask the chief technology officer, "Should we do this? What problem is this trying to solve? How have people tried to solve this problem before? How does this affect people's lives, or their livelihood, down the line? What does this mean for our companies, or our countries, or our humanitarian values?"

Quinn:                                  Or, in the case of climate change, it's a lack of storytelling, right? It's very clear, and now it's become part of the discussion, that facts didn't cut it, facts aren't cutting it. Clearly, we have to do a better job with the storytelling to get people where it counts. Again, their values, their emotions.

Quinn:                                  Shit, we just talked about your celebrating your 21st birthday by drinking wine and watching The Big Bang Theory, right? There's so many ways to elevate science and to incorporate it into our day-to-day lives, and the reasons why it matters, and why it's exciting, and what we can do with it, whether you're into Star Trek: Discovery, or you're a TNG nerd, or you're just not and you just like rocks, or whatever it might be.

Quinn:                                  So, I'm curious, what role do the arts have in your life, and how do you see that being a part of how you build things going forward? Where is it being done well, or where could it be done better? I'm curious, and that part is important to me.

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, and I'm going to take arts into a slightly larger context than what people normally think of with art, I'm going to take it more to the liberal arts side of things, in the context of communication. A lot of the things you've talked about are communication issues. We suck as a society at communicating. Yeah, great, we can get on our phones and text and read whatever is put in front of us that came through Facebook or whatnot, but actual communication and person to person communication is becoming an issue.

Michelle Lucas:                 If you can't tell the story, then why would anybody care? And to be honest, it's something that the space industry has not done a fantastic job with for a long time. Yeah, we can say space is amazing, but for a couple decades, people were like, "Yeah, so what?" Because we hadn't landed on the moon, and then especially when the space shuttle quit flying.

Michelle Lucas:                 I mean, we haven't landed on the moon since almost 50 years ago. Well, 50 years will be the first moon landing this July. And so one of the things that we ... Oh, go ahead.

Quinn:                                  No, I was just going to say, and then The Martian comes along and NASA applications go through the roof. It's like, "Yeah, but we can't just rely on that."

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, and you're exactly right, but going back to the topic we just talked about, making it applicable and making it exciting. And so one of the things that we really work with students on, in addition to the STEM leadership and teamwork, is communication. You have to be able to communicate, and one of the things that I love about communication, and it's one of my majors, is the ability to tell a story.

Michelle Lucas:                 And I tell students that, "Don't think about giving a presentation as being something scary. Think of it as, you're a storyteller. You get to be you, going back to our topic earlier. You get to be you. You get to show your personality, and your communication style, and tell the story how you want to tell the story, even if it's fact-based. You still get to control the narrative with your storytelling techniques."

Michelle Lucas:                 And I think telling the story is so, so incredibly important. It's one of those things that I actually am a big believer that NASA is doing a good job of right now, and talking about going to the moon in 2024. They're appealing to the idea of the story, the fact that it's been 50 years since we first set foot on the moon, and the idea that the next boots on the moon, hopefully, will be by 2024, if all goes according to plan, and they are consistently saying the next man and the first woman. And that opens up so much discussion and so much conversation.

Michelle Lucas:                 From an arts perspective, there's art in everything. If you look at design and engineering, even within a rocket engine, there's overlap between technology and engineering, nature and art. And so, whether you are an art major or not, and let's be very clear, my stick people look funny, I have no artistic talents at all, whatsoever, but I appreciate the elements of art that exist in things, and I think that art is a very important part.

Michelle Lucas:                 Look at every space mission. It has a mission patch to tell that story in an artistic way, and that's something we do with all of our student teams. They have to create a mission patch. That's one of the first things that they ... Well, it's something they do on the first day, as a team. And that tells a story better than facts, sometimes, because, let's face it, you start talking numbers and half the room zones out.

Michelle Lucas:                 And as you mentioned, with climate change, and just about anything else political, facts don't necessarily change people's minds. Stories do. And so I believe that communication and storytelling, whether it's verbal or it's through art, I think that's a crucial piece to doing better in STEM.

Quinn:                                  Yeah. It makes such a difference. It makes it all so much more ... It's like giving my dog his pills with peanut butter. It just makes it better. Peanut butter is amazing, and The Martian is amazing, and Apollo 13 is amazing, and The Big Bang Theory is amazing for so many people, fuck the haters. If that's what gets it done, then that's fantastic.

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, I got a Big Bang Theory for you guys. Since you live above a liquor store, your office is above a liquor store, here's a great party game to play with your friends who watch Big Bang Theory. After a beverage or two, ask, "So which Big Bang character do you think I am? And which Big Bang character do you think you are?" And it's really funny to watch people flounder on that. It's quite entertaining.

Quinn:                                  Fascinating. I like that. We're going to have to do that. We might have to do a whole fun talk on that.

Brian:                                    We can do that, I'm down.

Quinn:                                  Yeah. Hey, so, and we're getting close to time, here, we don't want to keep you forever. What are the biggest obstacles you're running into these days to doing your job well, to continuing to build and grow?

Michelle Lucas:                 For me, my biggest obstacle is a desire to stay small and organic, because I want our programs to remain very intimate. I don't want to be having five, 600 students at a single program, because then they lose that individual attention, which I think is so important. But to do that, it means it costs more money. Because you can't [inaudible] over a larger number.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, grants are really hard to get, and they're very time consuming, and so, at the end of the day, I'm like the average entrepreneur, funding. I would love to be able to just go and run these programs for as many students as I can without having to spend part of my time asking for donations of [inaudible] in the cities that I'm in, and that sounds cheeky, but I literally do. I ask for [inaudible] donations in the cities I'm in.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, I keep joking that if I find out George Lucas is my long lost uncle, that would make life so much easier. Unfortunately, Ancestry.com has failed me in that. I think they're wrong, but you never know.

Quinn:                                  You never know, you never know.

Michelle Lucas:                 So, for me, that is my biggest challenge, and I think that's probably not uncommon with anybody else who has a small entity and organization. We stay very lean with our organization. I don't want to be a big, fat nonprofit that is making ... That's President is making ridiculous money. I won't even get into my soapbox on that.

Michelle Lucas:                 But as they said in The Right Stuff, "No bucks, no buck Rogers," well, no bucks, no programs to inspire these students. And so, at the end of the day, it comes down to funding. I feel fortunate that I've got great reports from so many astronauts and people in the space and STEM community, and we do see a wide range of students.

Michelle Lucas:                 Organically, we are 40% female. I don't target women specifically, but about 40% of our participants are female. I think that goes back to a chick being who's leading all of these. They see a chick, and they're like, "Oh, okay, cool. I can do that, too." And so, I hear that as a problem to some people, but that's not one of ours. So, at the end of the day, it comes down to dollars and cents. But I would do this for free if it all worked out that I could pay for everything else, and I could pay my bills.

Quinn:                                  Sure. Yeah, yeah, I get it.

Brian:                                    Yeah.

Quinn:                                  All right, so listen, our goal is, as we mentioned, to provide some specific action steps our listeners can take to support your mission with their voice, their vote. If the time is right, and their dollar, so let's kind of finish with that. So, with their voice, let's shine a light on where we need to go as a people. What are the big, actionable, but specific questions the rest of us should be asking of our representatives?

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, first and foremost, you should be asking of your representatives, if they don't have a science, technology background, and they're making decisions on science and technology issues, where are they getting their information? It's your job as a constituent to get smart on these topics and talk to your representatives.

Michelle Lucas:                 At the end of the day, the space program, I think the current number of spinoff dollars is, for every dollar into the space program, eight to 10 comes back into the economy this spinoff. Look, we're not just incinerating dollars to launch a rocket, it's jobs. It's good jobs. It's spinoffs.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, educating yourself about those kinds of topics is incredibly important, and if you are educated about these topics, sharing with friends, family, et cetera, who maybe are not as smart on it, because let's face it, we all need to care about this if we want to remain in a position of power when it comes to science, technology, engineering, and math. We've got to educate our students, and as such, we have to educate ourselves, as well.

Brian:                                    Sure. Love it. And what about their dollar? What can we all be doing with our hard-earned cash?

Quinn:                                  Get specific.

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, with your hard-earned cash, you can visit the Higher Orbits website and make a donation. Also, in local areas, we're always looking for sponsors and partners, and so yes, selfishly, please, go donate to Higher Orbits. We are a 501 c 3 nonprofit, and so it is tax deductible, but I believe we all win together. So if you have a STEM organization that is near and dear to your heart, all of us STEM organizations have the same challenges. There's just never enough money, and so by investing in STEM for students, you are truly investing in the future of not just this country, but this planet.

Michelle Lucas:                 And so, that's an investment that is worth making, and so I encourage everyone to invest more in our students, because they are inheriting a world that has a lot of challenges, that's overpopulated, that has a myriad of issues that we've all created and they're going to have to solve.

Quinn:                                  Yeah. They've got some shit coming their way. I think they're very aware of that, which is why they're doing their school strikes and everything, but boy. Things are changing.

Brian:                                    The times are a-changing. Michelle, thank you so much for doing this and for talking with us today, especially on your birthday. It has been incredible.

Quinn:                                  She's had better birthdays, that's for sure.

Brian:                                    She's definitely had better birthdays. No, we really appreciate it, and we'll let you go after our little lightning round, if that sounds okay.

Michelle Lucas:                 Of course. And no, sincerely, guys, this was fun. This was a good way to ... I always like meeting new people, and even if I've only met you guys through the phone, I love to meet people who are trying to do good things in the world, and so thank you for inviting me to be on, and you guys are fun. This was awesome.

Quinn:                                  You think it's just through the phone till Brian shows up at your wine and Big Bang Theory party tonight with his happy birthday costume on.

Michelle Lucas:                 I'm going to shed a tear tonight, I'm pretty sure. I'm very sad the show is ending.

Quinn:                                  I get it, I get it. Well, what can come out of the ashes? What's next, besides Young Sheldon? All right, last few questions. Michelle, when was the first time in your life you realized you had the power of change, the power to do something meaningful?

Michelle Lucas:                 Oh, wow. I think that didn't come until probably my mid to late 20s. I never thought that I was anything more than a tiny little piece of the puzzle, and the reality is, we're all a tiny little piece of the puzzle, but that was when I started to realize that my voice mattered, and that if I decided to take a stand on something and work towards something, that I could be somebody who helps make a difference.

Michelle Lucas:                 And it was, again, helping a student get a scholarship to go to a university that they really wanted to attend, and I realized that while that may be only one person, but that helps change their life, and how many people's lives would they change? And so that was when I realized that even the smallest of actions can have really big ripple effects.

Quinn:                                  I love it. Who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?

Michelle Lucas:                 Oh, somebody in my life that has positively impacted my work life. Astronaut Don Thomas. We have this very strange connection. I met him 20 years ago when he came back from STS-83. He didn't remember me. I found the picture. Of course, we look exactly the same now as we did then. He is a huge STEM advocate. He flew in space four times, and he is someone who is always encouraging me to never give up, no matter how bad of a day I'm having, because while I sound like busy sunshine, and all is well, there are days that like, "Oh, can I keep doing this?"

Michelle Lucas:                 And his passion for inspiring students all across the globe inspires me on a daily basis. And his willingness to support Higher Orbits positively impacts me and this organization in ways that I'll never be able to repay him, and so I would say astronaut Don Thomas.

Quinn:                                  That is super awesome, super awesome. One of these days, we're going to get a podcast with someone who's floating up ... Is it 217 miles above us? One of these days.

Brian:                                    We're going to do it.

Quinn:                                  I should probably fix the computer, first.

Brian:                                    Priorities, priorities.

Michelle Lucas:                 Minor details.

Brian:                                    Hey, what do you do when you feel overwhelmed, Michelle? Specifically.

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, for me, specifically, my first thing is, I'm a venter. I need to get it out and kind of, "Ah." And then I eat a donut with sprinkles, or a cupcake, because I eat my feelings. And then, I buckle down. I let myself have that time, that little bit of a pity party, or that little bit of venting frustration. And then I remind myself why I do what I do. And I have some beautiful emails from parents and students that, sometimes, I'll pull out.

Michelle Lucas:                 But at the end of the day, I think we all get frustrated, and I think that's normal. And I think to say it's not okay to do that actually defeats the greater purpose. You got to get that out. And so I get it out, and then I just [inaudible] myself back in, and I remember the amazing students that I have the great fortune to work with, and these students inspire me every day. I have a gal who came into the program, and if you'd asked her what she wanted to do, she would've told you she was going to be a professional lacrosse player.

Michelle Lucas:                 Okay, look, I didn't know they had professional lacrosse for men, nevertheless women. But that was her thing. And now, she is applying to go to a school to study aerospace engineering, and she was our first ever space camp scholarship winner. And I look at what she is accomplishing, and I realize that I was very fortunate for my orbit to have crossed with hers, and to have been able to play a little part in that. And so, after I have my cupcake and my cry or my wine, I pick myself up and I remind myself of things like that.

Michelle Lucas:                 I live by that failure must be an option, in fact, that's the topic of my TEDx talk I did last year, but you only truly fail when you give up. And so I hit road block, and I eat my cupcake, and then I just keep pushing on.

Quinn:                                  All that is very moving and important, but my real question is, if you had to pick one, cupcake or wine, which is it?

Michelle Lucas:                 Oh, God. You just asked me the most impossible question. I got to go with wine. Going without cupcakes would kill me, but going without wine, I just don't think I can do it. I'm not built that way.

Brian:                                    All right. I was going to ask you a follow up about donuts, but we already got the wine thing, so it's fine.

Quinn:                                  It's fine.

Michelle Lucas:                 Donut with white icing and sprinkles. Got to have sprinkles. Got to have sprinkles.

Brian:                                    That's what I wanted to know. Amazing. Thank you.

Quinn:                                  Did you tell her about the one we get from downstairs?

Brian:                                    We get a donut from the coffee shop downstairs. Every podcast. It's a Samoa donut.

Quinn:                                  You know Girl Scout cookies, the Samoas? It tastes like that, but it's a donut.

Michelle Lucas:                 Is that coconut and caramel?

Brian:                                    It's phenomenal.

Quinn:                                  And I never even want it, and Brian goes, "We'll have one of those," and I'm like, "Well, fine."

Brian:                                    I take donut over wine any day.

Quinn:                                  Yeah, I think so.

Michelle Lucas:                 Okay, well, now I know what to show up with when I show up to your office.

Brian:                                    Yeah, exactly.

Quinn:                                  You don't want to come here.

Brian:                                    Just a couple more, Michelle. Michelle, how do you consume the news?

Michelle Lucas:                 If I'm very honest, lately, very carefully, because I just get so angry at the news these days that I take it in small doses. I try and read a variety of different ... What's the word I'm looking for? Sources. But it's all online. That's about the only way. We get a local paper to our houses, so I get some local news that way, but in general, I go to specific websites. I turn on the TV sometimes. Once I hear a topic that I'm interested in, I try and dig into that specifically, and I purposely try and go to four or five different sources, so I'm not just hearing what I think I want to hear.

Brian:                                    Yeah. Got to. All right, if you could Amazon Prime one book to Donald Trump, what book would it be?

Michelle Lucas:                 Oh my God. Don't ask me questions like this. My students might listen to this.

Brian:                                    I hope so.

Michelle Lucas:                 If I could Amazon Prime ... Yeah, but which means I should probably be careful in how I answer this.

Brian:                                    Got it, got it.

Michelle Lucas:                 I would probably Amazon Prime him The Right Stuff. Because it's such a story of being willing to be trailblazers and start something big and new, and it's one of my favorite books, and it's quintessential the beginning of the space program, and the space race. And I am excited that this administration is behind us going to the moon by 2024, and I think we have to embrace some of the mentality of the original Mercury Seven when it comes to flying in space. Because it's not always going to go the way we expect it to, and so, I think I would say The Right Stuff.

Brian:                                    Awesome answer.

Quinn:                                  Such a good one.

Brian:                                    This can be quick, but you've basically forced me to ask you, which Big Bang Theory character are you?

Michelle Lucas:                 I actually think I'm Penny. It's funny, because I have people say they think I'm smart, which I would debate. I don't know that I am. I think I'm a lot more street smart than I am book smart, so I'm going to go with Penny. I'm not as cute as she is, though.

Quinn:                                  We're just going to stay out of that one entirely.

Michelle Lucas:                 See, I set you up on that one.

Brian:                                    Yes, yes you did.

Quinn:                                  Way to go, Brian.

Brian:                                    Sorry. Well done.

Quinn:                                  Jesus. 68 episodes, it was a good run. Hey, where can our listeners follow you online in a professional ...? You know, not follow you, follow you, but you know what I mean. Like the kids say.

Michelle Lucas:                 Yeah, stalking is generally inappropriate, but hey, it's all good. So www.higherorbits.org. We are also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, Higher Orbits. H-I-G-H-E-R O-R-B-I-T-S. And I have a Twitter handle, Spacechelle. S-P-A-C-E-C-H-E-L-L-E. And so those are all the places you can find us.

Quinn:                                  That is awesome. Well, we just want to thank you for your time. Thank you for all that you've done, all that you do and all that you're going to do, changing the world, changing the universe out there. Brian, she specifically asked us not to sing "Happy Birthday." Should we?

Brian:                                    Probably.

Quinn:                                  Should we do it? How far through "Happy Birthday" till she hangs up?

Brian:                                    Till she just hangs up?

Quinn:                                  Yeah. Till she starts just taking that wine down.

Brian:                                    I think not far.

Michelle Lucas:                 I need a glass of wine for this, I think.

Quinn:                                  Okay, are you ready?

Brian:                                    Oh, we are?

Quinn:                                  Yeah, we're doing it.

Brian:                                    Oh, God.

Quinn:                                  Ready?

Brian:                                    Yes.

Quinn:                                  One, two, three, go.

Quinn:                                  (Singing)

Michelle Lucas:                 Well, it's my first ever podcast, and my first ever "Happy Birthday" on a podcast. So thanks, I think.

Quinn:                                  Well, we all make mistakes, Michelle. Brian is definitely the one that was in tune on that one, he was part of a fake boy band for a little while.

Brian:                                    That is true.

Quinn:                                  I'll send you links. It's pretty fantastic.

Michelle Lucas:                 Excellent.

Quinn:                                  Michelle, thank you. Have an awesome birthday. Thank you for all that you're doing, and we'll talk to you soon, all right?

Michelle Lucas:                 Sounds great. Thanks, guys.

Quinn:                                  All right, thanks.

Brian:                                    Thank you, have a great one.

Quinn:                                  Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute, or awesome workout, or dish washing, or fucking dog walking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.

Brian:                                    And you can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on Twitter @ImportantNotImp. So weird. Also on Facebook and Instagram, at Important, Not Important, Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. So check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal. And please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this. And if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcast. Keep the lights on, thanks.

Quinn:                                  Please.

Brian:                                    And you can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website, Importantnotimportant.com.

Quinn:                                  Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blaine for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.

Brian:                                    Thanks, guys.