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Autonomy of the Moon, with Mary Hagy
Episode 829th September 2021 • Tech Transforms, sponsored by Dynatrace • Carolyn Ford
00:00:00 00:36:11

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Mary Hagy went from serving in the U.S. Army, to showing our future generations that the sky is not the limit. Carolyn is joined by guest host Eric Monterastelli to learn about Moon Mark's mission and have imagination personified in Mary Hagy.

Episode Table of Contents

  • [00:45] I Want to Be Mary Hagy
  • [08:37] Where Humans Have Never Been
  • [17:55] One of the Things Mary Hagy Is Proudest Of
  • [28:11] The Leap That Mary Hagy Hopes For
  • Episode Links and Resources

I Want to Be Mary Hagy

Carolyn: I have Eric Monterastelli as my co-host. Thanks for being here. You actually introduced me to today's guest, Mary Hagy. I listened to your podcast. You interviewed her on Break/Fix. Honestly, I'm telling you right now, I want to be Mary Hagy. She's cool. Like she has one of the coolest jobs ever.

Mary Hagy is a veteran of the U.S. Army. She is a creative entrepreneur, storyteller, and civic enthusiast. She conceives, capitalizes, and executes profitable projects that have inspirational, entertainment, and educational impact across broad audiences. Her current project is Moon Mark.

What we're here to talk about today will capture global audiences. With the stories of six teams of high school explorers who compete to become the final two that will design, build, land, and race to autonomous vehicles on the moon. Let me just repeat that.

She's got a project that has six teams of high school kids who are going to compete. To become two teams of finalists that will design, build, land, and race two autonomous vehicles on the moon. They'll communicate peer-to-peer with young people who will become explorers in space and on earth. And open a talent pipeline for the workforce of the future. Welcome, Mary Hagy, CEO of Moon Mark.

Mary: Thanks so much, Carolyn. I really appreciate that introduction.

Carolyn: Let's start with, what is Moon Mark? Can you give us an overview?

Mary: What you just described is very much a capsulation, if that's a word of what we're doing. When you think about Moon Mark, the idea really came from the notion that humans right now are on the precipice of commercialization of space.

The DNA of Moon Mark

Mary: Yes, governments will be involved. They have been involved for 60 years. But also, the way that the opportunity for really getting to whether it's the moon or an asteroid or Mars or Pluto or whatever, we're on that precipice. It's the commercial industries that are going to get us there.

We came up with Moon Mark and the DNA of Moon Mark remains that of the high school kids that happen to be that age. Human beings that happen to be that age, wherever they are on the face of the earth, they’re going to accept stewardship of space exploration.

There are aspects to space exploration that are, I'm going to call them mistakes and paradigms. The space industry has really been all about the agencies of countries. Whether it's NASA, the Canadian Space Industry, the European Space Industry, whatever agency it is.

What has occurred is that young people, there's no real access for them to be able to understand that they can be a part of this. Until now, it's been very much about, "If you want to go to space, you have to be an astronaut. And if you have to be an astronaut, you have to go through this excruciating process with very high attrition and likely you won't make it," and all of that stuff. That's just not true anymore, that's the good news. It's not true.

With Moon Mark, at our DNA level, we are creating experiences and opportunities for young people. For them to understand that the game has changed, that they can have access to space exploration. It doesn't have to be one astronaut out of 30,000 applicants.

Exploration in General

Mary: There are all kinds of ways to reach their potential if they're interested in space exploration, or exploration in general. That's kind of what we're really all about. It's about accessibility, it's about opportunity, it's about exploration. It is about a little bit of competition.

Carolyn: I used to teach middle school. I taught 13 year olds and that age and the high school age, they still believe that anything is possible. They still have that sense of wonder and awe for the most part on a daily basis. What you're doing right now is fostering that. I love that you're doing this for these kids.

Mary: I really appreciate that, Carolyn. Moon Mark has been quite a story in the making itself. We've had a lot of spirited discussions, mostly with people in the space industry. Mary, why are you targeting high school students?

How do you think they're going to be able to do what's really needed to put vehicles on the moon? Race them from afar and all of the other stuff that's about Moon Mark. The reason why we decided that the high school age demographic was the right one for us is because they do still have that sense of awe.

Carolyn: Tainted, jaded.

Mary: The high school kids will absolutely look at this and they'll turn their thinking caps on. Once a student reaches a certain age, she or he becomes skeptical, because that's what human beings do. What we want to do is offer opportunities for those that are right on the edge of being skeptical, but they're not. They still have the ability to dream big and achieve big.

Mary Hagy and the Home on the Moon

Mary: That is the demographic that we know is the steward of commercialization of space. One of the things that I want to share with you this morning is a new program that we have called home on the moon. It's going to be a challenge for kids across the world, that age group, and also middle school. You know, we're all about that too. We're working with the Aldrin Family Foundation and their curriculum and their experiences and stuff like that.

Carolyn: Is it a US-based program only? Or is it worldwide?

Mary: It absolutely is global. Here are the reasons why. When we crafted Moon Mark, came up with the idea and started to really flush it out. One of the tenants, one of the values that we hold dearest is that no one owns the moon. Every human has experienced the moon in their own way, in their own life. We use the moon as a unifying element. A unifying force for people in all cultures, in all locations, because they can see the moon, it's their moon.

Carolyn: I got chills when you said that. It made me think of John Lennon's Imagine song, just where we stop trying to own stuff. You're right, no one owns the moon. I love that.

Mary: It really has given me a lot of inspiration when I think about how we have already. And we're going to reach young people across the world and to do it in a way that is meaningful for them. At the same time, it really challenges them and helps them understand what they can do personally to affect the future.

Where Humans Have Never Been

Mary: Humans have never been to this place. We've never been at the place where we're really going to go and explore space. I don't mean in any way to detract from the achievements of the people that have gone to space before. It's a different ball game now, it's a completely different ball game.

If you think about what it must have been like when the silk road was created years and years ago. Those people were doing trading and they were exploring new lands and all of that. That was a real moment in time. Right now, the responsibility that we have at Moon Mark is to make sure that young people understand how they can not only access the ability to explore space.

But also most importantly, the responsibility of making the right kinds of decisions. We don't need to go out there and create wars in space, we got enough of them here. We’ve demonstrated pretty strongly how humans can be drawn to those types of situations where it's mine, not yours. Let me fight you for it or your beliefs are different from mine and all of that.

What we really want to do, and are doing, is integrating the message of responsibility into the experience that we're creating. You don't get to race on the moon, unless you really have demonstrated through a series of structured experiences and things like that, that you understand the responsibilities and the potential consequences of what you do.

Eric: Let's circle back and talk about how we got to this point. If anybody dives into your background, obviously the claimed Philadelphia businesswoman, military veteran, you've worked with veterans in the past.

Mary Hagy Has a Compulsion

Eric: Journalism, broadcast, television, all these fun things that we even covered on the episode that we did together. I remember specifically, there's a story. There is a turning point. There's a threshold that you crossed that got you to space, and it wasn't watching reruns of Star Trek. So how do you go from the army and the IT world, and the business world to Moon Mark?

Mary: There are certain people in the world, and I'm one of them, that has a compulsion. For me, it's a joyous one. That is that I really love being in the startup space. I love creating ideas, ideation, rumination, creation, and execution. A couple of years ago I didn't have anything to do on a Saturday afternoon. So I went to a high school robotics competition.

I had gone there because number one, I wanted to enjoy the experience. Number two, I really wanted to see the kids in action. So I went there. One of my favorite moments was when the folks gave me a group of kids, a team that was competing that day. We were talking and one of them said to me, "Why are you doing this? Why are you doing that? Mary, do you want to see the pit?"

I was like, "Oh yeah, I want to see the pit." And so they took me to the pit, as there is in racing. There's the pit where the team is working on the car. It was really incredible to me. We of course went there and they explained to me everything that they were doing. How they had built this robot over a six-week period.

The First Competition That Was So Influential to Mary Hagy

Mary: Now they were at the first competition. How they were going to win it. That was just so influential for me. When I left that day with a very happy heart, I thought, "Whatever I do next, I need to work with young people again." It’s what I had done in the past, but then I've done a couple of other things in the meantime.

I said, "Yes, it's important to me that I work with this group of kids, this age demographic. They haven't become skeptical yet," as we were saying earlier. That's how it actually started. I didn't have any idea what I was going to do to make that happen. But when that happens for me, when I have an experience like that, it means that I must listen. I must listen to what I'm supposed to hear.

Sometimes that's easy, sometimes that's hard, because sometimes you just want to put the puzzle piece together. And say, "Oh, well, that clip, that never happens for me." I started listening. That's how I was drawn into the notion of space, which I've not been a part of my professional life. I started learning about it and understanding where we are as a human species. Saying, "Okay, there's something here." So that's how it started.

Eric: This is actually a really important point that she's getting to hear. This goes back to the episode that you and I did together. That has to do with all this telemetry, all this data, the crossover, and the intersection between let's say the racing world. And even this, the space world with technology.

Mary Hagy and Her Team

Eric: Mary Hagy and her team and the kids can't do what they do without being invested in different facets of technology. That technology stands not just sitting behind a keyboard and programming out what these robots and these race cars are going to do. It's engineering, it's science, it's mathematics, it's thermodynamics.

It is the aerodynamics, it's all these things that we talked about before. It's amazing how STEM extends itself and how many different programs, applications, and pieces of technology you need to make this all work. I can see Mary bringing her vast experience in that world to the table as well. It makes the transition a little bit easier.

Carolyn: We're in a place in human history where all of this is converging. You're bringing in the technology piece of it. I'm thinking about how you refer to me as the meat behind the wheel. I'm thinking about you, the meat here, your brain bringing all this telemetry in. These ideas and coming up with Moon Mark, the technology piece. But then, the brain piece, that's the ultimate piece of technology.

Mary: I do want to call out what you and Eric just said, which is, you don't get to the moon. You sure don't get to race. And you sure don't get to leave a scientific experiment there that's going to last the next 30 years. You don't do that without the skill set of STEAM.

We have had some interesting conversations with folks about, "No, it's STEM." No, it's STEAM. It’s the arts. The arts are, for example, we were working with Frank Stefansson in London, who is a world renowned auto designer. He cannot create a Ferrari or a Maserati, or a McLaren.

A Very Compelling Experience

Mary: He can't do any of that if he doesn't understand the other aspects, or be able to call upon science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In bringing together what we know to be a very compelling experience and opportunity for young people. It's very much also about what skills are you drawn to?

What skills do you need to learn or want to learn? How do they affect your future? And how does your future affect the future of humankind? It very much is an amalgam. We happen to be at some place where we've got an acronym.

Carolyn: I like your acronym the best, I like STEAM. I've never heard that the A is so important. The creative part, the art part, you're right. It can't happen without that piece.

Eric: But A is silent, it's like French. You hit on something really important. In projects like this, technology is a more broad term, it's not just IT. There is technology in mechanics. There's the technology of electronics, there's technology for different things.

When you look at this, as people are building these machines to go on the moon, how much do you think old technology is being rediscovered? How much of it is future-proofing, things that we want to last the next 30 years. An example I'll bring up, ancient technology.

Sometimes people forget, like how are we going to move water from this lower level to the upper level? There's something known as Archimedes' screw. We don't want to reinvent the wheel, but we want to take that type of old technology and modernize it. So how does that work in this arena when you're talking about vehicles on the moon?

One of the Things Mary Hagy Is Proudest Of

Mary:  One of the things that we are really proudest of, and for me has been such a joyous part of the journey is that we have existing technology. It possibly can work on the moon, or it possibly cannot work on the moon.

An example of that is the requirement for data transmission. We watched the astronauts walk on the moon. We've seen videos of the rovers that are up there. We're very much about capturing the journeys of these young people. Obviously, a critical part of the journey is the race on the moon.

What we did not expect is that the technology does not exist for anything to be able to be captured and brought back in a form that people would watch. It's very useful to have the data streams right now for scientific purposes.

It's very useful and very effective for us to understand that we can't really capture and bring back what we need. Or we couldn't be like, wait a minute. Number one, this is something we need to solve that we didn't expect. Number two, equally important if not more important, is solving for that acceleration in technologies.

That may not have occurred if we had not been here and said, "We need this." It will enable future explorers to have more capability in a more timely fashion than exists now. Like you're saying, Eric, when you were talking, I was thinking about cranes.

You were talking about water distribution, but the same thing, who came up with cranes? I've watched this wonderful documentary about cranes and it was fascinating. Humans continue to develop capabilities that hopefully affect positively the larger scale of life and potential.

You Can Go Race on the Moon

Mary: That's one of the things that we are charging our young people to do. You get to go race on the moon, but there are all of these other things that are involved. Here's your backpack of responsibility. You're not going to get there unless you fill that backpack. And you put those pieces out when they need to be put out.

Carolyn: Has the program started? Let's talk a little bit about logistics, how participants are chosen and teams are narrowed down. What's the timeline of the whole program?

Mary: We're talking in September of 2021. The goal that we had been marching towards relentlessly was to launch a rocket and a lander, and land and race in October of 2021. There's a couple of things that have happened. This is just a moment in time when there's a confluence of stuff going on. That confluence, it is COVID for sure.

It's also a shift in the space industry. Talk about COVID for a moment, as we were talking earlier about having young people participate and compete in Moon Mark. There's a requirement that when we get to the six teams, they have to be in the same place. They got to be competing. That's not possible right now.

Carolyn: Physically in the same space.

Mary: Yes. So we will have a lot of teams that are competing virtually. But then, when we get to the six teams that have to compete, they have to be together. COVID over the last year and a half has just barked our shins on every front. If we were doing it in the United States, it would be difficult enough.

The Requirement of Global Participation

Mary: What parents want to send their kids in the middle of a pandemic to Houston Johnson Space Center? Not many. That would be hard enough. Having the requirement of global participation has really been a challenge for us. So that is one impact of COVID, and it's been meaningful.

It has required us to come up with virtual challenges that will enable us to continue to interact with kids all over the world. At the same time, keep them safe. To me, job one is to keep them safe. That's one impact of COVID. Another impact of COVID, which you probably have heard about, but bears mentioning here is that COVID affected the global supply chain.

What happened is that with this impact in the global supply chain, if you need a microchip or you need this particular kind of part for a lander, or you need this kind of rocket, the global supply chain has just slowed everything to a snail's pace. When we were supposed to go up in October of this year, it wasn't only that how do we get kids in the same, blah, blah, blah?

That part is pretty understandable, but also our space partners, everything has shifted to a later date. Oftentimes in this case, to answer your question or attempt to answer your question about when it is going to happen.

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