Carnegie Mellon University
March 03, 2015

The Sky's The Limit

Orion nebula

Photo by NASA: Hubble's Sharpest View of the Orion Nebula

The sky has been the limit for David P. Radzanowski's (HNZ'90) career.

The Heinz College alumnus was confirmed by the Senate as NASA's chief financial officer in late 2014.

"Ever since I can remember as a kid, I believed in the mission of NASA, exploring beyond the earth and into the heavens," said the Pittsburgh-born Radzanowski. "The work I do helps make that happen. I live vicariously through every scientist, engineer and astronaut working with me. What we do is not just important to the nation but to humans. It's a big world out there and we're making it less big."

NASA and Carnegie Mellon University have a number of connections. Radzanowski works with several on a regular basis, but beyond that CMU's Silicon Valley program is based at NASA's Ames Research Center.

"I've visited out there and seen the great work that they're doing," he said of the faculty, researchers and students based in California. "It has been a very wonderful partnership and I've seen some of the innovative things happening in terms of connecting research and education and connecting that to the entrepreneurship happening in the area."

Prior to being confirmed as CFO, Radzanowski served as chief of staff and principal adviser to NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr. He previously served as deputy associate administrator for program integration for the Space Operations Mission Directorate where he had oversight responsibility for the administrative functions of the Directorate as well as Space Shuttle Transition and Retirement activities.

RadzanowskiHe received a Meritorious Presidential Rank Award in 2009 and NASA's Outstanding Leadership Medal in 2011.

As CFO, Radzanowski is in charge of developing an $18 billion budget for Congressional approval, as well as managing NASA's business processes.

Much of the budget goes toward advancing technology and innovation, which in turn, spurs economic activity.

"We have a unique mission for the agency both in terms of space and aeronautics research," Radzanowski said. "We have a saying 'NASA is with you when you fly.'"

Many of the innovations found in modern aircraft were developed through NASA activities over the years, he said. In addition, those activities have spurred new industries such as satellite and GPS communications. While some projects had a specific purpose for NASA, private industry has found new ways to apply that technology.

"We have a lot of technology and innovation that has spun off into industries and products related to robotics, medical, materials such as those used in running shoes and automobiles," he said.

Radzanowski credits the "fantastic experience" he had at Heinz College, formerly known as the School of Urban and Public Affairs, with preparing him for where he is today, including classes on government accounting taught by Robert Strauss, professor of economics and public policy, and others.

"It's gratifying to learn that what I taught was helpful in his professional development and subsequent success," Strauss said. "I've always been of the view that if a student of mine does well, I do well."

Radzanowski said his time at CMU was an inflection point in his life.

"I was worried about entering the program after having such a quantitative background, but it offered such an easy transition into the realm of public policy. Carnegie Mellon University was so technologically forward at the time and the university offered such a great experience in fulfilling my needs."

Beyond the qualitative and quantitative coursework, Radzanowski cites many of the leadership-driven courses with helping him attain his goals.

"I remember the public speaking and creative writing classes very well," Radzanowski said. "Also, the policy analysis classes had allowed me to assess a pressing public issue and help develop options and make recommendations in a way the public and politicians can understand."

He said without being able to explain science and technology to people he couldn't be successful.

"Ultimately, I came to Heinz College for a foundation and I left with real-world skills that were designed for facing real-world problems."

CMU continues to work with real-world problems, currently the university is partnering with spin-off company Astrobotic to contend for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, which is aiming to land a privately funded robot on the moon.

Radzanowski said that while NASA's current path does not use the surface of the moon as part of a Mars journey, any sort of broad exploration activity occurring through private industry or via international partners is of interest to NASA.

"NASA has been tasked by the nation to explore beyond near-Earth orbit, and we're on a journey to get humans to Mars by the 2030s, but there are many steps along the way," he said. "There are many avenues you can use to get us to Mars.

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