Oct. 23, 2018

#40: What Takes a Young Woman from Art School to NASA... & Why Might That Change Everything Forever, for Everyone?

#40: What Takes a Young Woman from Art School to NASA... & Why Might That Change Everything Forever, for Everyone?
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Our guest is Ariel Waldman, the author of What's It Like in Space? Stories from Astronauts Who've Been There, the founder of, the global director of Science Hack Day, and a member of the council for NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts. Want to send us feedback? Tweet us, email us, or leave us a voice message!


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

Brian: And I am Brian Colbert Kennedy.

Quinn: This is episode 40.

Brian: 40!

Quinn: 40! We've got a question today, Brian.

Brian: Yeah, we've got-

Quinn: Hey, what would take a young woman from art school to NASA, and why might that change everything forever, for everyone?

Brian: That's a very good question.

Quinn: For good.

Brian: To have it answered-

Quinn: In such a thoughtful, thought-provoking, entertaining, and not at all exasperated by us way.

Brian: Right.

Quinn: Which is great. Our guest is Ariel Waldman. She's an author, an advisor to NASA. I think she's just in charge now.

Brian: I think she's the boss of NASA.

Quinn: Right, got it. She is the founder of, awesome. She is the global director of Science Hack Day, and an all-around just superb human being, building, as she calls it, “massively multiplayer science,” which is just so cool. She's doing that, literally, for everyone's benefit.

Brian: Yeah, just so that-

Quinn: You're welcome.

Brian: Everybody could participate and have fun and learn and experiment and hack science.

Quinn: Building a great new future.

Brian: Ah, she was great.

Quinn: We talk a lot about just get out there and do something every day to contribute whatever skills you might have.

Brian: Right, right.

Quinn: She's doing all of the things.

Brian: Yeah, she does a lot of stuff.

Quinn: You don't have to do all of them, but she ... It's a hell of an example.

Brian: Yeah, I was really impressed, and obviously we'll get into it on the podcast, but with how she, not accidentally, but just went with, rolled with it as things happened, and it turned out.

Quinn: Made something of it.

Brian: Right, right, right. She combined what she already was good at and felt was important in her with the new opportunities that were given to her, and now look. She's the boss of NASA.

Quinn: Yeah, there you go, kids. All right, let's go talk to Ariel.

Brian: Okay.

Quinn: Our guest today is Ariel Waldman, and together we're going to ask, how does an enterprising young lady go from art school to NASA? Ariel, welcome.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Quinn: For sure.

Brian: This is very exciting for me, because I took some art classes, so maybe I could be in NASA one day.

Quinn: Nope. Once again, this one's not about you, Brian.

Brian: Ariel, let's get started by maybe just telling us who you are and what you do.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, so yeah, as mentioned, I'm Ariel. I do a lot of different things. I am an advisor to NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, a program at NASA that funds the more futuristic, sci-fi, out there concepts that could be transformative to future space missions, maybe 10 to 40 years down the line. I am also the global director of Science Hack Day, an event that gets scientists, designers, developers, and all sorts of people together in the same physical space, to see what they can rapidly prototype in 24 consecutive hours. 

Ariel Waldman: I am also the author of a book, called What's It Like in Space?: Stories from Astronauts Who've Been There. I'm the founder of, a directory of ways for anyone to participate in space exploration. I do a lot of other things, and I'm planning on going to Antarctica in just a few short weeks.

Brian: Whoa.

Quinn: Really, nothing going on then, huh?

Ariel Waldman: Yeah.

Brian: Wow. You just described the best job ever, it sounds like.

Quinn: Yeah, right, Brian. How's that compare to your typical day?

Brian: Moving on ...

Quinn: Yeah, I just want to read one thing off of your LinkedIn profile, from your notation on the External Council for the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts. "The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program nurtures radical sci-fi-esque ideas that could transform future space missions. The NIAC external council is a small group of visionaries, from quantum physicists to science fiction authors, that advise the program. I am the only non-doctorate on the council." Man, that's awesome.

Ariel Waldman: It's true.

Quinn: Can you just enlighten us a little bit on ... I mean, we'll get into it more, but that's just ... I need to hear what happens. Talk about wanting to be in the room where it happens, but also like how the hell you managed to get your way on there.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, I mean, so yeah, this program is, to me ... I'm totally biased, but it's the coolest program at NASA, because it funds things like [crosstalk 00:04:41], you know?

Quinn: Or just anywhere.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, I mean, it funds concepts of people using comets as propulsion systems or-

Brian: Oh, man.

Ariel Waldman: Studying human hibernation on the way to Mars, and things of that nature, so pretty out there stuff that is still on the credible side of science, and we can look into if it's possible, even if it might still be several decades away from implementation. It's a really great program. Yeah, they've got this external council, which is fantastic, people from all different disciplines.

Ariel Waldman: For me, I think that my pathway to getting on there was that a few years ago, I was on a National Academy of Sciences committee about the future of human space flight. This was a congressionally requested committee and report about why we send humans into space at all, and how to build a sustainable human space flight program for the U.S. out to the 2050s. That was also a pretty incredible experience. I think that's what caught the eye of NIAC. Specifically, with NIAC, I feel that a lot of what I can add into it is people coming from nontraditional backgrounds and having really interesting research or ways of solving problems that is pretty present day in their field but, when applied toward space exploration, can actually be pretty futuristic.

Quinn: That's so awesome.

Brian: Wow.

Quinn: One hopes that that's the way these things would come together and work. Needless to say, it doesn't happen as often as it needs to, or it should, or you would hope, but that is super cool to hear.

Brian: Insane.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, it's just ... Yeah, I like weird things, and when I can combine weird things with space exploration, I'm pretty happy.

Brian: I mean, that's ...

Quinn: Fuck, yeah.

Brian: I just want to go back in time and realize this same thing when I was young enough.

Quinn: Would you make so many different choices?

Brian: So many different choices! God, I want your life. All right, so we'll get our conversation going here. Quinn and I believe pretty strongly that we are in a time that calls for much action, and so, on this podcast, we like to ask some questions that are action oriented, and hopefully get some people that are listening to be inspired and motivated to do something great, or help someone like you, who is doing something great. Quinn will set up a little context for us, and we'll ask you a bunch of questions, and you'll have so many good answers. We'll get specific, and we will fuel the revolution, if that sounds cool.

Ariel Waldman: Sure!

Quinn: Basic, yeah, she's in.

Brian: That's it.

Quinn: Nice. Hey, Ariel, we start with one pretty important question to set the tone for the day. Instead of saying, tell us your whole life story, we like to ask, Ariel, why are you vital to the survival of the species?

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, so I had tuned into other episodes where you had asked people [crosstalk 00:07:52]-

Brian: Oh, you [crosstalk 00:07:52]

Quinn: She knew about it! There are so many guests, who are like, "What?"

Ariel Waldman: Well, but I don't have a great answer, either, because I feel like I have the same answer-

Quinn: What have you been doing?

Ariel Waldman: That Emily Calandrelli gave, and stuff of just like, "Well, I'm not sure that I, myself, alone am vital to the survival."

Quinn: Aw, be bold. Come on. You're here for ... you're ... Look at these people you're in the league with, that are so lucky to have you, you know? Put it out there for a sec.

Ariel Waldman: I mean, I don't think I'm necessarily vital for the survival of the species, but I would say that I'm trying to help others become vital for searching for life elsewhere in the universe, which might have more impact on our survival over the longterm than not.

Brian: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: That's a really pushing it sort of answer, but ...

Quinn: That's pretty good, though. 

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, but trying to figure out how to detect life elsewhere in our solar system and in our galaxy and in our universe is a pretty important thing. It's something that NASA hasn't exactly figured out yet, how to actually detect life, not just habitability, but life.

Quinn: Right, right.

Brian: Right.

Ariel Waldman: I think this is something that really requires people from a lot of different backgrounds and disciplines to contribute to. I feel that the word isn't really getting out about that as much as it should be. In that way, I'm trying to help the world help us detect life elsewhere in space. I think that'll say a lot about our survivability here on earth, good or bad.

Quinn: I mean-

Ariel Waldman: Over the longterm.

Quinn: Two things, you know? You're like, “Oh, this is kind of pushing it,” but I'll tell you. If on your tombstone, it's like, “I helped nudge humanity, even in a smallish way, towards being an interplanetary species/not dying off on our one rock,” that's a pretty decent fucking logline.

Quinn: Also, you're right. We're trying to get James Webb up there at some point. We've got TESS that just launched and is taking these incredible pictures already, from first light. You're right, you know? We're trying to figure out, one, how we can verify habitability, much less signs of life or the potential for life or to sustain it. It just makes me think of watching TNG Star Trek, and how quickly they would gloss over, like, “Oh, we did a scan. Yep, there's life down there, and everything's fine.” 

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, exactly.

Quinn: Of course, it's sci-fi, and they were shooting TNG in people's living rooms. I loved it so much, but at the same time, it makes you think of all of the things that have to come together to be able to do that one little thing, and how they probably will have to come from so many different disciplines.

Quinn: I do think we will get there, because you look at the scientific leaps we've made throughout the past hundred years, especially, but it's just like, boy, wouldn't that just be great, to be able to be like, “Yep, we can go there,” or, “Yep, there's people down there. They might kill us.” That'll be a good day, and I'm very glad that you're the one that's just dragging us there.

Ariel Waldman: I don't know about dragging, but sure, trying to instigate, I'll say.

Quinn: Kicking and ... Wait. I did ... Well, that was the other thing on your LinkedIn thing. Your job title is Instigator, which is amazing. That's awesome. My five-year-old's is the same thing, for very different reasons.

Brian: Oh, yeah.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, right.

Quinn: It's like living with the Kool-Aid Man.

Brian: Yeah!

Quinn: Listen, this is where we usually shoot out a bunch of wonky context about ocean temperatures, or how terrifying bacteria are, or electrocuting specific cancer cells, but in this case, I just want to get to our conversation here, because we do have a lot of young women listeners, which I'm proud of and excited of. I'm not really sure why they're here, but I welcome them, and I want to help any potential new lady mentors for them be on the mic. I want to learn from all of you.

Quinn: Not every young woman who goes to art school is going to want to transition to NASA, or talk at DARPA, or catalog all the existing space probes in her spare time, but let's just say some of them did. On the one hand, it's amazing to have liberal arts inclined humans, especially ladies, and it's even more exciting ... I'm a liberal arts major. I'm a nerd, who's a liberal arts major, so I do think it's important to have people who are able to pose the ethical questions and the possibilities that are out there.

Quinn: I think so many of our technological issues in the past five years have come from not having those people in prominent places, but having liberal arts inclined humans, especially ladies, crossing over with STEM and doing the things you're doing ... Like you said, some of the reasons you might be on these boards, that's where our great ideas can come from, and that's where the great questions come from. As much as we don't usually talk about tell us your life story and things like that, I do want to know what the hell happened.

Quinn: How did you go from one to the other? Was it a sudden revelation? Was it both philosophically? Did you always want to do this, and art school was a bump along the way? Was it something you transversed your way to on a mission? Was it a sudden change of mind? Then, also, let's dig into the methodology of the choices you made, and the things that helped you or the obstacles that stood in your way, along the way, because I think those are the things that are going to help young women and young men, but we don't really need them, find their way to having an impact.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, sure.

Quinn: Hit me.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, so, no I did not grow up being a space geek or a science geek. I mean, I watched Star Trek. That's probably about the extent of it.

Quinn: Wait, which one?

Brian: [crosstalk 00:13:46]

Ariel Waldman: Well, both Picard and Janeway.

Quinn: Okay, nice. Did you just skip Deep Space Nine, then?

Ariel Waldman: My parents weren't really a fan of Deep Space Nine, so I didn't really get into it myself.

Brian: It's controversial.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, it's very controversial. Growing up, no, I didn't have any big space or science dreams or anything like that. Science wasn't really my thing. Not that I disliked it, it was just ... just wasn't my thing.

Ariel Waldman: I was really obsessed with design and art. When I was 14, I decided, because I was a really weird 14-year-old, that my dream job was to be an executive creative director. I thought that was-

Brian: Nice!

Ariel Waldman: The best thing in the world. I thought it meant you could be as creative as you wanted to be, and you could apply design towards a gazillion different mediums. I don't know. I thought that was the coolest job. I set out on that mission as a teenager, and so, yeah, I went to art school. I got my degree in graphic design. I was working towards this goal, climbing the corporate ladder, and hit a glass ceiling with that.

Ariel Waldman: That's when I moved out to San Francisco. I was doing some consulting and still interested in art and design and things of that nature, but I was watching a documentary, called When We Left Earth, which was this-

Quinn: Ah, so good.

Ariel Waldman: Yes, really great documentary. It's like that booming American voice sort of documentary, but still amazing.

Quinn: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: I was watching it at home, and I saw that they were interviewing a bunch of guys, who had worked in Mission Control in the 1960s, and they were interviewing them about the Apollo missions and prior to that, as well. They were talking about how, when they were hired at NASA, they were all 26 or something. They didn't know anything about spacecrafts or rockets or orbits or any of that. I'm watching this at home and thinking to myself, well, I don't know anything about space exploration, and I want to work at NASA. That sounds pretty amazing.

Quinn: It was a bit of a moment of revelation, then.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, it was. I mean, it was kind of a silly moment, because I was like, who wouldn't want that job? That sounds awesome. I had told that to a friend, and this friend was like, “Oh, I was just at this conference, and I got someone from NASA's business card, if you want it.” 

Ariel Waldman: I was like, “Yeah, sure.” I decided to email this person at NASA, saying that I was a huge fan of NASA. I was a fan for all of like a week.

Quinn: Right.

Brian: Giant fan.

Ariel Waldman: I said that if they ever needed volunteers or something, that I was around. The day I emailed them, they were like, “Well, we just created this job description.” They sent it over to me, and I applied for this job, and I ended up getting a job at NASA, which blew my mind.

Quinn: This sounds like a made up story. This is crazy.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, I swear it's true.

Brian: Wow.

Quinn: What was the job? Was it executive creative art director?

Ariel Waldman: I wish.

Brian: Nailed it.

Ariel Waldman: No, it was ... They were specifically looking for someone who had no experience with NASA whatsoever, because they were running a program called CoLab, whose mission was to connect communities inside and outside of NASA, to collaborate. They were looking for someone to coordinate the program and be that bridge between communities outside of NASA, and collaborating with NASA and knowing how to translate and communicate things and get people to work together, and figure out the challenges of that and possible ideas around that.

Ariel Waldman: For me, I had worked in advertising a lot, and had this design background. I had then, since moving to San Francisco, become connected to the tech startup scene in San Francisco. I applied for this job, and yeah, I got it. I was freaking out, to say the least.

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: Yeah, I'm sure.

Brian: What a ... Wow. That's wild. All right, so let's just back up for a second. 

Ariel Waldman: Sure.

Brian: As all this was happening, this definitely true story, what obstacles did you run into along that way?

Ariel Waldman: Towards getting the job at NASA?

Brian: Yeah.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah.

Quinn: Yeah, I guess, and then I guess also, while you were at NASA, I mean without naming names, anything within NASA, as a woman, or as someone without scientific, academic training, or both, et cetera, et cetera.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, so I mean, getting this job at NASA, really there wasn't ... I mean, I went in for interviews. They told me, after one of my interviews, that they were going to give me an offer. I was looking at them like, “All right, cool, cool,” just being really calm. I was like, "Yeah, yeah, [crosstalk 00:18:59]."

Quinn: Right, play it cool, Ariel. Play it cool.

Ariel Waldman: "I guess I'll accept this offer." Then it's like, I calmly walk back into my car, after talking with them, and close the door, look around, and then call my mom and go like, “Mom!” 

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: Mom!

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, freak out. That part ... There wasn't really challenges. It really was an incredibly lucky scenario, and it's one of the reasons why I do all the work that I do today, because someone had decided to make that easy for me, and I want to make it easy for other people.

Quinn: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: Certainly, working at NASA was a big lesson for me, in terms of working for the Government, and just how difficult it is to work for the Government. I had no idea what was headed my way, in terms of just the bureaucracy, and the attitudes, and you know. Thankfully, my team at NASA was amazing and awesome, and I loved working with them. Also, I remember going to NASA and expecting it to feel extremely male dominated, but I was ... I worked at NASA Ames in Silicon Valley. I was actually surprised.

Ariel Waldman: I'm not saying it was 50/50 gender balanced, definitely not that, but there was actually a lot of women. There were a lot of women. That's something that also has been very frustrating for me, as I've gone further into this career in space exploration, is actually recognizing that NASA, in terms of gender diversity, is actually pretty decent. By decent, I mean about 30% or so.

Quinn: Sure.

Brian: Right.

Ariel Waldman: Comparatively, the commercial space industry, which has less regulations put on it, less restrictions, in terms of who they can and can't hire and turnover and being able to fire people, and things of that nature, has abysmal gender diversity, something that's closer to maybe 10%, if they're lucky. That's been very frustrating for me to realize. My introduction to NASA, well, from the government standpoint, was definitely a bit of a ... I don't know what to say other than an ass kicking and just learning how to deal with that, you know?

Brian: Right.

Ariel Waldman: I had a fairly positive experience, in terms of my immediate team, and getting pretty much what it felt like getting paid to go to school.

Quinn: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: Certainly, I ran into some challenges and some difficulties with specific scenarios that I don't want to get into, necessarily, on this.

Quinn: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: I would say the overall experience was positive, in terms of really opening my eyes into all the people who can be involved in space exploration.

Quinn: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: That was really the inspiration for all the work that I do now, because my time at NASA was actually pretty short, initially. I had learned about all these opportunities for people to get involved in space exploration, but nobody really knew about them.

Quinn: Right.

Ariel Waldman: That started going in my brain and figuring out how I could get those opportunities out to people, who would really be delighted, the same way I was, to learn that they could contribute to space exploration, even if they are not space geeks.

Quinn: Sure, sure. Do you feel like, now, you're on the right path, personally?

Ariel Waldman: I mean, that's such a big question. I feel ... I certainly am very satisfied with my path so far. I feel it's ... A lot of it's just motivated about wanting to work on cool stuff, and wanting other people just to know that the door is open to play around with science and space exploration.

Ariel Waldman: I'm not looking to convert people, or tell them that they should drop everything and change their careers, or anything of that nature. For me, it's just having the same pathway that I have, where it's like you can dabble in different things, and you don't necessarily have to choose. It doesn't have to be life-changing, or it can be, and all pathways are okay.

Quinn: Yeah, I think that seems to be a realization that a lot of Generation X are having a hard time wrapping their heads around, is for younger folks, and even younger folks, who have been impressed upon by those older generations, where a lot of younger folks haven't, that yeah, it's okay to dabble in a bunch of different things, and to succeed in a bunch of different things, and not to work a nine-to-five that you belong to for 40 years, and that it's not only okay to start over or to switch to something new, but that's almost better, or expected, or advantageous, not to necessarily bounce around and not be committed to things, but to use a wide variety of skills in a number of different places where you can contribute and be interested in them, instead of being miserable in your job.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, I mean, people from different backgrounds and different geographic locations and different family situations, they all have different constraints.

Quinn: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: I'm always trying to be aware of that, and I think that's where a lot of my work ends up focusing on. There's the part where I focus on getting people to realize that the door is open, but then there's also the societal side of things, of getting more opportunities available to people, that encourage them to dabble with different things, and working against some of the societal walls that are put up, that are discouraging people, with playing outside of their discipline. This is something that we see in science a lot, that scientists often are very interested in playing around with other disciplines, but everything around them is telling them, “Focus on your work. If you don't focus on your immediate work, it's going to be a detriment.” Work is needed on both sides, both on the individual person's side, and on the institutions' and society's side.

Quinn: Right, and I think that's so true, and it's a conversation we really need to start having, as far as the support systems to let people do these things, much less encourage them, is how the hell do we get these people health care, so they feel like they can do these things, bounce around, or do 10 different things, because the days of a big corporation guaranteeing your health care and paying into it ever are not coming to an end, but becoming a minority for a lot of folks, either because they can't get those jobs, or they just don't want those jobs, and they don't want to commit to those things, so that they're miserable, or getting a 2% pay raise every year, or whatever. They want to take risks, and contribute to a wide variety of things, but that's really hard to do when you can't go to the fucking doctor.

Ariel Waldman: Right.

Quinn: It's happening fast, and not just with Uber and things like that. We have to have those conversations. Switching tracks a little bit, what is democratized science instrumentation? What was it like working for the Office of Science and Technology? What does Obama smell like? I'm guessing it's roses and hope, but if you could just detail out all of those, that'd be great.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, well, so I hate to disappoint, but I actually don't know what Obama smells like, because I actually haven't met him, even though I have been involved with things directly leading to him.

Quinn: Fine. I went into that question with a lot of expectations.

Brian: Yeah.

Ariel Waldman: I know. I know. Hey, I want to know, as much as you.

Quinn: All right, anyways, talk about the boring stuff then.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, so the democratized science instrumentation paper was commissioned by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. I wasn't working for them, but they had commissioned it. That was a paper ... I guess it came out in 2012. It was a guidebook that I wrote and curated around different hardware and software that was greatly democratizing different types of science, so things that are now even more popular today, but like open ROV, which is a robot that can go underwater.

Brian: Oh.

Ariel Waldman: Ways of discovering new galaxies or ways of folding proteins that could help with drug discovery, and things of that nature. In 2012 ... I wish that I ... I think that's when it came out, the guidebook that I put together. At the time, there was a pretty limited set of things that would really fall into this democratized science instrumentation guidebook, and so that's really been what's amazing to see, over the last five-plus years, has been just how much this area has exploded.

Ariel Waldman: These are things that are sometimes top down, so it'll be an institution saying, “We want to do a citizen's science effort.” The things that I also tried to focus on were things that were bottom up. People building DIY tools, and different ways of tackling problems that were really more in the MacGyver sense of things, and either were comparable, at least closely, to professional equipment. That's always been what is a difficult area to navigate, in terms of a lot of the stuff, because, for instance, there's a lot of air sensors out there, but not until you spend a decent amount of money do they become actually good, in terms of quality and eliminating false positives.

Ariel Waldman: Navigating this area is exciting and also something where you have to tread carefully, because you also don't want to give bad expectations of what things are capable of and not. This guidebook tried to tap into that, and then also talk about the greater ecosystem, as a whole, and how it should be better funded and looked into because, a lot of times, the things that people are exploring are on the fringe, in terms of being underfunded or overlooked, and things of that nature. I think that's how a lot of science can get done, is because some areas of science simply just are much better funded and taken more seriously than others. We have an opportunity to level the playing field, if we get people involved at all different disciplines and using these technologies that can really be game changers.

Quinn: Was the point of the guidebook, the thesis ... I guess, who was the guidebook for? Was it for the Office of Science and Technology? Was it for potential users/consumers? Was it for organizations?

Ariel Waldman: Kind of all of the above. Certainly, because it was commissioned by OSTP, I had them in mind, because I was wanting to give them a guidebook that advised them on things that they should be looking into and considerations that they should be making. At the same time, as much as possible, I try to make my work open to everyone. I think, even though I wrote it with them in mind as an audience, I think it was incredibly useful for a lot of different scientists and organizations, in terms of how to think about things, and what areas that they knew about where similar tools could be implemented.

Brian: You seem to love to focus on unusual collaborations.

Ariel Waldman: Yes.

Brian: Please tell us more about that.

Quinn: I'm actually curious, does that come ... is that perspective and life view ... As it turns into a methodology, does that come from a specific upbringing or school situation? I guess, how do you proactively put that out there in the world?

Ariel Waldman: I mean, some of it comes from my direct experience with NASA, and just the fact that I am considered to be someone who comes from a nontraditional background, who is working in the space sector. There's that. Then there's just my personal [inaudible 00:31:38]love of weird and unusual things. I think you could probably see that in my choice of going to art school. I think just being able to explore and be weird are some of the things that, some of the reasons why I chose to go to art school.

Ariel Waldman: I think I probably always had that in me, regardless of if I had this unexpected thing at NASA happen or not. For me, I think, getting weird collaborations and unusual collaborations together is always delightful, because you don't know what to expect, and it infuses serendipity into anything that you do. You're literally creating things that otherwise would not be created. This is what I'm always trying to infuse into science generally, is these serendipitous solutions or ways of tackling things, because I think science and many other disciplines would be fine without having serendipity. Clearly, they've managed to get on okay, but I think, in a way, it's reckless for them to not do things that can infuse serendipity into solutions and into ways of doing things, because otherwise these creations would just not exist.

Ariel Waldman: The idea that having things that could exist not come into fruition is sad to me. I like weird stuff, because I like the unexpected nature of what can happen from that. I think, as long as there's always things that I could never predict happening, I am happy.

Quinn: Sure, it seems like you're really just hell-bent on at least putting the pieces in place, so that those things could possibly happen. Does that sound right?

Ariel Waldman: Yeah.

Quinn: Because otherwise they won't-

Brian: It also just sounds like it comes natural to you.

Quinn: Right.

Brian: It's just in you that you want to test weird things, because that's just who you are. That's awesome.

Quinn: Well, and it's funny, because when I'm dreaming up sci-fi shit, you know, people forever talked about, “Oh, this writer, or this imagineering person, did a lot of daydreaming at his desk,” yada-yada. Now, there's all this research says that's actually when the most fantastical ideas come, is when we let the subconscious do its work, and it finds the connection between synapses, that otherwise wouldn't when you're sitting in front of a blinking cursor. It's when you're on a walk and you're letting that happen, or you're sleeping, or you're in the shower. This seems like more of the real world version of that. If you don't let these things inhabit the same construct a little bit, they're not going to happen.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah.

Quinn: What happens if we do?

Brian: Man, let's take another step back really quick, and say, you watched that documentary, and you decided that you wanted to work for NASA, but maybe you don't get that business card, and just doesn't happen. What could've been the next step, because as amazing as that was, obviously that's not going to happen for a lot of people? 

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, I mean, so I'll answer that two ways. I mean, so for me, realistically, because I wasn't hellbent on working for NASA, I think if I were to actually think about it, I've probably sent a lot of emails like that to people, over the years, of just like, “Hey, you're really cool. What can I do?” like to Pixar or something.

Brian: Yeah, right.

Ariel Waldman: If that had never happened, I'm not sure that I would be just still gung-ho, trying to get this job at NASA. I think, honestly, it was just a spur of the moment thing, where I thought it was really cool. If I'd never heard back or anything, or if I never got that business card, I can't say, with any certainty, that I would've actually continued pursuing it. I think that's why it has had such a huge impact on becoming this mission in my life, is because I-

Quinn: To pay it forward?

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, to pay it forward, and just realize that there's a whole ton of people, who would give everything to work at NASA and have this opportunity. I want to help those people, but I also want to reach out to people that it's just not even on their radar.

Brian: Yeah.

Ariel Waldman: It's not even something they considered, because I think if you walked up to most people on the street and just said, “You have to change nothing about yourself, and you can have a job at NASA tomorrow. Do you want it?”

Ariel Waldman: They'd say, “Hell, yeah!”

Ariel Waldman: That's one thing, why it's had such a big impact on me, is because I think it could've easily gone the other way, where I just didn't get this job, and I have a totally different career now, several years later. With that said, if someone is suddenly realizing that they would want to work at NASA or get involved in space exploration, I think, thankfully, nowadays, there's a lot better ways to, or at least more ways to get involved. The fact that NASA is no longer having a monopoly on space exploration, I think, is overall a positive thing.

Brian: Right.

Ariel Waldman: There's a myriad of ways. It's one of the reasons why I created, because it shows a lot of simple ways to get involved in space exploration, such as cataloging or looking at galaxies and being able to potentially find new galaxies, whereas you can get more involved building the next generation of Mars rovers for NASA and other people.

Ariel Waldman: There's a lot of things like that. I think also the thing ... If I were to say one thing, it would just be about recognizing what your current disciplines and skillsets are, and figuring out how that could apply to NASA. Sometimes, people won't already be aware of how being a writer or a lawyer could be involved in space exploration.

Quinn: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: Certainly, that's why I try and reach as many people as I can, because, for instance, I've talked to many lawyers, who seem flabbergasted to learn that space law is a big, up and coming area that they can get involved in.

Quinn: Right.

Brian: Space law.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, there's a lot of stuff to figure out, and a lot of international treaties that are very vague, and well not a lot, but there's a couple.

Quinn: Sure, sure, yeah.

Ariel Waldman: There's a lot of areas, also, when it comes to planetary protection, and figuring out what qualifies as contamination. Things of that nature are only going to keep accelerating. For me, I think the biggest advice I can give for people who want to get involved is start with whatever your strengths are. Whether or not you feel like your skills in whatever interest area you have is high tech or not doesn't really matter.

Ariel Waldman: We're reaching this point where people can get involved in space exploration at many different levels and disciplines. I'm not going to say that it's always necessarily easy. I think, a lot of times, you have to be the creative one and be approaching people and saying, “This is what I can offer you that no one else in your organization does,” because you think a lot of space organizations have the problem of ... For instance, if they need to design a website or something, instead of looking out into the world and saying, “Who is the best expert at designing websites? We should talk to them.” They, more or less, circulate an email around, going, "Who, here, knows how to design websites?"

Brian: Right, right.

Ariel Waldman: I can't say that they're always going to be the ones that are creatively thinking about how to involve people from different disciplines, but I am saying that they need more people than they realize.

Quinn: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: A lot of times, by starting those conversations, they can lead to a lot of interesting opportunities. A lot of it is still in the nature of how my career started, which is begin talking to people. So many people in Space really are delighted to know that people think they're cool.

Quinn: Sure.

Brian: Yeah.

Ariel Waldman: They're usually pretty fine with people reaching out to them, as long as it's not those emails of, "I'm positive I saw aliens five times yesterday."

Brian: Yep.

Quinn: Yeah, right. I mean, that's how a lot of our podcast requests are. Brian does intersperse them sometimes in the middle of the night, with, “Hey, I think I saw something in the sky.” Generally, people get back to us, which is-

Brian: If you see something, say something.

Quinn: That's not what they mean.

Brian: Oh.

Quinn: That's not the intention.

Brian: Hey, I just want us, really quick, just to repeat what you said, because I think it's so incredibly important, and it applies to not only if you are a young person who wants to work for NASA, but in any situation, which is just recognize what you are good at, figure out how you can apply that to a ... or how that helps any, whoever you might want to work for. Just know your strengths, and don't be intimidated because of whatever you don't think you know about science, or whatever. That's such great advice.

Quinn: You know, and I think I've mentioned this before, probably in one of our cancer podcasts, but I had a realization of that very early, and this is a sidetrack, which was-

Brian: Yeah, we've talked about this before.

Quinn: Yeah, I've had a lot of friends get sick. My best friend died of cancer, and I kept trying to figure out, how can I change this in some way, because I'm not a doctor, and am bad at flashcards, and can't just make that life pivot? There's some things you can do, and some things you have to recognize you can't. I just recognized, “Oh, I'm really good at physical labor, so I'm just going to run really far and raise money, so that the people who are super smart can do the work.” There's a world of ways you can contribute and help. All of them can be beneficial to making change.

Quinn: The second note on that is actually, you talk about how much scientists and stuff love hearing from people. There's this wonderful organization. You've probably heard of it. It's called the Science and Entertainment Exchange.

Ariel Waldman: Yes, I am ... I don't know what they call them. I am an advisor, not an advisor, a consultant on it.

Brian: Of course, you are. Of course, you are.

Quinn: Yeah, anyways, it's awesome.

Brian: One of our past guests was also, right? 

Quinn: Yeah, yeah, it's the best, because ... I won't say most. Many of us, screenwriters and creators and stuff, do want to try to do things as close to realistic, or the next jump from realistic, as possible.

Brian: Yeah, as accurately as possible.

Quinn: Obviously, story is a thing, but, boy, it's so cool to talk to these people, and have them be like, “Actually, you could do this,” and that can unlock a whole world. Programs like that are just amazing.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, it's a totally fantastic program. When I first learned about it a few years ago, I remember just going like, “This is amazing.” 

Brian: Yeah.

Ariel Waldman: The fact that it comes, technically, out of the National Academy of Sciences is even more impressive.

Quinn: Yes, yes.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, they do a lot of good work, and they're a fairly small program staff, like only three people or something.

Quinn: No shit!

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, they are heavy hitters. They do a lot of great work.

Quinn: Yeah, it's awesome. Let's talk about the actual work. Where we are, the moves we're making as a species, led by people like you, thank God ... do you feel like the folks in your world, now that you've been in it for a while with your perspective and actively paying it forward to all these different up and coming creative minds and you've actually made an impact ... Do you feel like we're asking the right questions, and not just digging for specific answers? Does that make sense?

Ariel Waldman: Not entirely. Can you ...

Quinn: I guess, I mean, are we pursuing things with an open mind, in that respect? Do you feel like your push for a wide variety of inputs and contributions is fueling things, as we push forward? Obviously, the structures of, for instance, space exploration and discovery, are opening up with the privatized world, but do you feel like there's an institutional movement towards openness in thinking, instead of just like, “Well, we have to do this, because this is the way it's always been done, or the way we've always predicted it would be done”?

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, I would say yes and no, certainly. It's been now 10 years since I got that first job at NASA. Now I'm a decade in, which is weird for me, because I still very much feel, in a lot of ways, similar to how I did 10 years ago, but now I have a lot more knowledge. 

Ariel Waldman: I would say yes and no. It's something. It's frustrating. Certainly, NASA has gotten a lot better in the last 10 years with being open and with understanding how to engage people better. When I was there 10 years ago, they ... It was 2008, and they still thought using social media was like using solitaire at work.

Quinn: Right.

Ariel Waldman: It was not okay, and it wasn't widely accepted.

Quinn: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: That was strange. In that sense, I'd have to say they've come a very long way. In terms of the space industry in general, worldwide, there's still a lot of work to be done. Certainly, with getting a lot of countries more involved in space exploration, and giving them opportunities and having them be able to create their own opportunities to get involved in space, there's a lot of work to be done. In terms of just institutions getting it, yeah, it's difficult. 

Ariel Waldman: I was giving a talk recently, where I was saying, when I launched 10 years ago, the problem was that NASA, in a way, scrubbed out the stories of a lot of people, because I think they imagined this thing where, if no one is represented in space, if there's no personalities and things of that nature, then everyone can imagine themselves being involved in space. I sort of get that, but it means that we lost out on a bunch of great stories about ... Now, we've got movies, like Hidden Figures, that talk about some of those stories that have been looked over.

Ariel Waldman: Now, 10 years later, with a lot of the commercial industry, it's swung the opposite direction, and we still have the same problem. Now we definitely have cults of personality. Now, really, it's Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos exploring space. That creates the same problem, but in the opposite direction, where one person's face is represented, one person's views are represented. This is the stuff that gets me really frustrated, because the reality of space exploration is that it is diverse. It can be way, way, way more diverse than it is, but there's so many stories that we continue, to this day, to lose out on, of people from diverse backgrounds and areas, who are involved in working in space exploration today, and we just don't hear them that often.

Ariel Waldman: Then, also, this thing about why we even explore space in the first place. Again, billionaires will often say it's because we need to be a multi-planet species, and we won't survive unless we are. It's not necessarily that that's wrong or incorrect, but they frame it as, this is the reason why we do this. That's just not true. That's essentially lying. The reason why we do space exploration, which is backed up by public data, is that there are many different reasons. People oftentimes cite multiple reasons for why we do it.

Quinn: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: The thing that really frustrates me, and the thing that I think is so wrong, even though we're in an era more of commercial space and more opportunities for people, is there's still this single narrative of why we do this, or the way we do this, or the type of people who are involved in doing this. It's really frustrating, because it's just simply not true. We need to be having many, many different narratives and recognizing that, and that it's okay to say, “This is the reason why I do it, but that's not representative of why everyone does it.” 

Quinn: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: Until we can break that single narrative and break away from that, both in the real world and in science fiction, I think, in a lot of ways, space exploration ends up repelling people, because they can't get on board with what's being promoted as the only narrative.

Quinn: Yeah, and I think there's a real lesson to be learned. We've faced the same thing. We've tried hard to expand the horizons, when you're talking about climate change, which is you really have to meet, and/or clean energy, you have to meet people where their values are.

Brian: Right.

Quinn: Look, we clearly have this big, fucking, looming thing coming down on us. It's already affecting a lot of people and a lot of places, especially not just in America, but there's a lot of ways to approach it, to get people almost excited and engaged, whether it's from a religious point of view of the Bible tells you to take care of the planet, or it's purely from a capitalistic point of view, which is like, there could be a massive industry here for clean energy, and things like that.

Brian: Right.

Quinn: Space can be the same way. It should be, and it can be, and yes, having a backup plan or 2.0 or whatever is a prong, but it certainly shouldn't be the biggest one or the only one.

Ariel Waldman: Yep.

Brian: That leads very well into what we wanted to ask next, which is how can we and our listeners help support the next generation and people like you, and specifically your mission? What do you need the most help with?

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, I mean, my project, Science Hack Day, that I mentioned at the start, which is this weekend event, that gets people from all different disciplines together in the same physical space, to see what they can prototype over a weekend, I think is surprisingly effective. It's effective in the sense ... It's on a small scale.

Ariel Waldman: A lot of these events might only be 75 or 100 people, but the things that come out of it, I really think, are game changing, in terms of having people, who otherwise wouldn't be collaborating, collaborating together, having people recognize how, yeah, their specific skills and ways of looking at the world, might be valuable to other disciplines, and things of that nature. With Science Hack Day, it's this grassroots event. It's not an organization, by design. It's not a franchise, where you have to ask for permission to organize one. Anyone can organize a Science Hack Day.

Brian: Yeah.

Ariel Waldman: There is a website,, that has guidelines of how to organize one in your own city. Now it's in 29 countries around the world, which is fantastic.

Brian: Cool!

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, and it's just ... Not only is it incredibly valuable and meaningful, but it's just fun. We don't give challenges. We don't say you have to have a specific skillset to come. Anyone is welcome, and you can work on anything you like. You can work on multiple teams, if you like. It's an incredibly collaborative environment. It's not competitive. It's really just about getting excited, and making things with science, and just really making sure that you have a good distribution of people from different disciplines, who are coming to these events, and then just letting magic happen, so to speak.

Brian: Yeah.

Ariel Waldman: The impact it's made, both on the individual and group level, have been pretty profound. Again, some people walk away from these weekends, and they say, “Well, I'm not really interested in going into science, but now I know how to play around with particle physics data, if I want to ever.” Other people, it's led to these multi-year collaborations, or new ways of doing science. We can't ever predict what will come out of it, and the types of effects that it'll have on people, but it's just really a fun, joyful, nice event.

Ariel Waldman: Getting people to organize Science Hack Day events in their own cities, I think, is a big project of mine, and something I try and help people do, as much as possible. I try and make myself available, as much as possible, to help answer questions or attend the events, or what have you. I think it's really ... If we can continue doing Science Hack Day, or things like it, in every city around the world, really, I think what we'll be building are more resilient communities, who actually know people in other disciplines. I think, just that social awareness of one another and knowing that you can reach out to one another is really important.

Ariel Waldman: Sometimes, it's just simple stuff. For instance, because I have the job that I have now, I know that if I have questions about black holes, I can just DM an astrophysicist and ask about black holes. Everybody's like, “That's so cool. You're so awesome,” but that should be something that is available for many people, you know?

Quinn: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: Having access to socially know people from other disciplines, and just be able to talk to them about things randomly, but I don't think people should be in all the silos that they're put in. I think that's a small step to getting to a better world, in my opinion.

Quinn: I love that. Yeah, and I think that all of those efforts and Hack Day ... I'd just want to see what Brian would contribute ... 

Brian: A Little Hack Day.

Quinn: Can lead to that more open world. What would you say, specifically, to young women, who would very much like to simultaneously burn down the patriarchy and also maybe go to space or help dream up the next machine that'll go to space, or the rockets or the habitats, or the asteroid grabber, or whatever?

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, gosh, that's such a good question, because I feel like I'm still in the process of navigating that myself. I am not going to lie to people and say that it's easy, because I've certainly run into the patriarchy, and I continue to run into the patriarchy-

Brian: I'm sure.

Ariel Waldman: More than I would like to. It's something that I've unfortunately, if I'm being entirely honest, I run into more the higher up I try to go.

Brian: Yep.

Ariel Waldman: That's the unfortunate reality, but-

Quinn: That's so, a glass ceiling, then, basically, the same shit.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, sometimes it's glass ceilings, and sometimes it's just ... Yeah, it's stupid stuff, like people will sing your praises, until it's time to actually put their neck on the line, in which case, they won't. Sometimes, it's stuff like that, that can convert into a glass ceiling. Sometimes, it's just annoying stuff that just makes no sense. Yeah, I could do a whole podcast on that, but that would be a really negative podcast. 

Quinn: Sometimes, you've got to spit the fire.

Brian: Yep.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, I would say, identifying people who are working in areas that you're interested in is an important thing, and talking with them. You know, when you find good people, and you email them, and they're like, “Oh, let me introduce you to five other people,” ... Do that as much as you can, because I can't speak for anyone and the hurdles that they have to get through personally, because we all find our own pathways, but certainly, again, just talking to people and reaching out to people, and anyone who's not being helpful or offering to introduce you to many other people, I would say, don't spend too much time on those people.

Quinn: Sure.

Brian: Yeah.

Ariel Waldman: In terms of getting involved, I think this is really generic advice, but really good advice, no matter if it's space or whatever you want to do, is just doing good work and getting it out there. By that, I mean, if you hit roadblocks to doing things that you want to do, think about what's the skeleton level version of that thing that you want to do, and do your best to build it or write it, or whatever it is, and get it out there, because one thing I didn't talk about too much was that, when I got this initial job at NASA, it was very short-lived. My program ran out of funding within a few months, and I was already back out on the street, so to speak, without much, other than a blip on my resume that I worked at NASA for a few months.

Ariel Waldman: It had already had an effect on me, and I wanted to work in space exploration, at that point. I was really passionate, at that point, after only a few months, of going like, well, I want to do this, but I have no idea how to get involved, because I've just got this blip on my resume, and I'm not really sure what to do. I don't have much experience.

Ariel Waldman: That's when I developed, because I had learned about all these different ways people could get involved in space exploration. I built it as a WordPress site. It was the most skeleton version of a grander idea that I had. I built it, and I got it out there. I tried to get coverage for it in some publications and things of that nature.

Ariel Waldman: The thing that was really cool was that people responded to it really positively, and it really took off. In that way, I started just building these little, easy community resources, either through WordPress or whatever else I could, which then, people started inviting me to speak places, because I was building these things that were unusual, at the time. Then I started speaking out about how difficult it was to work for the Government, and how people could get involved in space exploration. I, very much, over the next few years, clawed my way back into wherever I am now, which is someone who, I think, can now safely say that I feel like I belong in space exploration. Not that I still don't face challenges, from a nontraditional background, but I feel, with what I've accomplished, I at least have proof points.

Ariel Waldman: The way that really all started was by saying, okay, well, I'm completely on my own. I know I want to work in Space, but I know that I can't really get a job in Space if I applied, because this was a fluke deal. For me, I knew how to make simple websites, and so I made simple websites and building community resources or building things that are useful to people, even in the most bare bones way, and again that can just be writing articles, or what have you, or making videos. That's a way to claw your way into places and start advocating for yourself that you belong in places, maybe even though you have no experience in them.

Quinn: I love it. Yeah, put the work out there. At least give yourself something to stand on a little bit, even if people are trying to fucking kick it out from under you.

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: On the other perspective, and I know we're getting tight here, but I've just one ... I would love to hear the other side of this, which is, the world is burning in some respects. One of our big goals is to help shine a light on where we need to go, as a people. It's very obvious. This week, one answer to that question is get the hell away from white guys as fast as possible, which is relatively awkward. Anyways, what do you feel are the big actionable questions the rest of us should be asking of our representatives?

Ariel Waldman: There's a lot of different things, I think. I've had the opportunity to go and speak to members of Congress in the past. One thing I would just say is, if you ever have trips planned to D.C. at all, if you can, a month in advance, email every representative in your state, Republican and Democrat, people from different districts, and just say, “Hey, I'm going to be in town. I'd really like to talk to you about X,” and have a one-pager for them, because a lot of times you're going to be not meeting with them, but meeting with their staffers.

Quinn: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: That is a really important thing to do, for those who have access to travel to D.C. once every year, or once every few years, or what have you. In terms of what to ask people, for me, I've got some things that are on my list personally. One is NASA is currently banned, more or less, from collaborating with China directly. This does not come from NASA. This comes from a single person in Congress. It used to be Senator Wolf, and now it is Senator Culberson. Culberson is a tricky character, because he has sent a lot of money towards NASA for doing a Europa mission, which is really awesome, but he is also the single person that keeps NASA from collaborating with China. This goes against the National Academy of Sciences' recommendations. I think this is something that's really frustrating, because other federal agencies don't have the same ban. 

Ariel Waldman: Using NASA, just as this token thing of either as a way of working together with countries as a reward or not working with them as a penalty, is just very frustrating, because again, this goes back to we really need people from all different countries and disciplines working together to make space exploration a reality.

Quinn: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: Things of that nature are ... That's a really specific thing that frustrates me, because there's only two countries right now that can send people into space, physically, and we're not one of them, and we're not allowed to collaborate with the other one.

Brian: What?

Quinn: Yeah, yeah, right, right, and things are complicated with the other one.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, well, exactly. I mean, that's the reason they give for not collaborating with China, is because of human rights violations. Obviously, Russia doesn't get a free pass on that, and even us. We don't get a free pass on that.

Quinn: Yeah, not even close.

Ariel Waldman: I mean, huge atrocities right now.

Quinn: It's getting worse every week.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah.

Quinn: Yeah.

Ariel Waldman: Even before that, we were, too.

Quinn: Yeah.

Ariel Waldman: Things of that nature are frustrating. That's a personal rant of mine.

Quinn: Please.

Ariel Waldman: I would say, more generally, being aware that ... Everyone advocates for more money with NASA, but being better educated about NASA's budget, in terms of it's more or less been a flat budget, which means that it's actually not even keeping pace with inflation. On that current trend, that means that NASA can't actually do anything beyond cislunar space, so essentially something orbiting in lunar space, but they don't have enough money to land on the moon. They don't have enough money to orbit Mars. They don't have enough money to land on Mars, things of that nature.

Ariel Waldman: In order to do that, they need a budget that keeps pace with inflation, goes above inflation by 2% to 4% per year for several years. It's not just about giving them a quick boost, but actually by having more of a dedicated policy of having something that goes above inflation for several years is important.

Quinn: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: Those are a few rapid-fire things.

Brian: Yeah, perfect.

Ariel Waldman: Being educated about the context that everything sits within, when talking to Congress, is important, because I think it gives you more of a foot in the door to be able to change their minds about things.

Brian: Yeah, of course.

Quinn: Absolutely.

Brian: That's awesome.

Quinn: I love those. Good context is so vital to everything, in all the questions we ask and the actions we take.

Brian: All right, well, first of all, just thank you so very much, again, for hanging out with us today. We know we've had you on here for a little bit.

Quinn: Yeah, we have.

Brian: We really appreciate it. All right, Quinn has another question for you that maybe you already are ready for, just like the first one.

Quinn: Oh, yeah, that's right.

Brian: Let's see what's in store for her.

Quinn: It's our lightning round. Ariel, when was the first time in your life you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?

Ariel Waldman: Oh, gosh, yeah, I don't think I listened to this part of the podcast, at the very end.

Brian: Got you. Got you.

Ariel Waldman: It's hard to say, because I feel like I-

Quinn: Take your time.

Ariel Waldman: I have the benefit of being steeped in people who profoundly thought that they were change agents, even before I worked at NASA. I think being reminded of having a unique power to communicate to people and the power that design and communication can have, I think, was a big effect on me. Certainly, I think it's something that, honestly, I feel like I experience it every day for the first time. That's kind of cheesy, but it's true, because I think, now that I'm 10 years in and have this whole portfolio of projects and everything behind me, I think, honestly, every day I'm still getting that little twinge of, I don't know, just excitement and also disbelief of the effect that I am capable of having. It's both heartwarming and also scary, from the standpoint of when you realize that you can have change, you also realize how much you can mess things up for other people, if you're not careful.

Quinn: You're basically Captain Marvel.

Ariel Waldman: I guess. It's just ... Yeah, with change-making comes responsibility. It's that thing where I think, yeah, every day, I'm surprised at the effect that I can have, and that makes me want to be that much more conscious about being thoughtful and careful about the decisions that I make, because I don't think you can really, truly, be a change-maker, and not have that second consideration that comes with it, of the responsibility that it has.

Ariel Waldman: Certainly, I think, year on year, I feel ... I have that first feeling of like, wow! I'm able to do that. I didn't think that was possible. I would say, in a way, it's been lifelong, but certainly, going back to that thing that I was saying about doing good work and getting it out there. It's that getting it out there part that I think really has a profound effect. People are doing amazing work everywhere, and not everyone gets to hear those stories, and not everyone gets to feel the impact of it, because it doesn't get out there. I think, really, doing things publicly, in small or big ways, is a way to really make change, because I'm tired of us having to have movies like Hidden Figures come out, that educate us about all these amazing things that happened, years later.

Brian: Right, right.

Quinn: Yeah, and as much as social media is ripped apart and, in so many ways, it should be ... In so many ways, we have seen so many examples, in the past two years, of the impact that one person, whether by themselves or part of a large group, can have. Everybody has ... Voter turnout in America has always been terrible, 50% if not worse in certain places. California Primary turnout was 12%, in the liberal, progressive, revolution-leading state, right? Yet, in Virginia, one vote in one district gave the Democrats a tie of the House, and now 400,000 people have Medicaid. Two women, screaming at a Congressman in the elevator may have changed so much. People marching in the streets ... It's one person deciding to take off work and go, or get child care, or take your damn kids with you.

Quinn: All these things, small to big, have such a huge impact, and you can do something meaningful today, as crazy as it is. The good news is there's so many issues. There are so many ways to apply yourself.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah.

Quinn: Hey, who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?

Ariel Waldman: Do you want me to name a specific person?

Quinn: Uh-huh (affirmative), let's get specific with it.

Ariel Waldman: Gosh, there's multiple people. I feel like, by naming one, I'll be like ... It'll be so sad for the other people, who have definitely had impacts on my life.

Brian: There could be runners up.

Quinn: Yeah.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, certainly this one professor, Gisele Giorgi ... She leads the microscopy program at Merritt College, which is this great community college in Oakland that does such amazing work for people to get jobs in biotech. I ran across her, because I signed up for the microscopy program, so I could learn microscopy to go to Antarctica, and just the amount of-

Quinn: Sure, why not?

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, that's things that I do, I guess. Coming into that program was just really positive, both from the support that she gave and also just knowing how many people she is helping, day in and day out, get these cool, biotech careers, at this community college is just really, really cool. Other than that, it's been a lot of astrobiologists, so-

Quinn: Sure.

Ariel Waldman: [Selma Kuki 01:10:12] has been one. She's ... Again, this is all around Antarctica. For the last six months, I've been focusing on going to Antarctica. It's just ... I think a lot of scientists, I think I would say, is my general answer because, to this day, I wouldn't be able to accomplish everything I am, singlehandedly. It really takes a village to do different things.

Ariel Waldman: Then, also, a shout-out to all my patrons on Patreon, because they are-

Quinn: Nice!

Ariel Waldman: Also, helping support me in all the weird stuff that I do, and going to Antarctica, and all of that. Yeah, and there's so many people that are helpful and have made a huge impact on my life, over the last six months, so I'm forgetting a gazillion people, but that's at least my short answer, because I know we're-

Quinn: That's a fine answer. Come on.

Ariel Waldman: I know we're running a bit long, but yeah.

Quinn: I just wish you were thankful about the things that have happened to you in your life, and the people who have helped out. It would be-

Brian: She can't be perfect, okay? All right, real quick lightning round of questions here. Number one, what do you do when you feel overwhelmed, Ariel?

Ariel Waldman: I do a lot of different things. That's-

Quinn: Give me one answer, when you're just like, “Fuck this!”

Ariel Waldman: When I'm overwhelmed to a frustrating point, I usually try to do something like get boba tea and go to the park.

Quinn: Yes, [Matrix 01:11:42].

Ariel Waldman: Even if I've got meetings or if I'm too busy, I try to really utilize what I call my independence muscle, which is I'm self-employed, and it's something where it's a lot of ... It's a surprising amount of work, when you're self-employed. Nothing ever turns off, so being really conscious about doing things in the middle of the week, like I'm going to go to the park when everyone else is at work, even though I'm really busy. Doing things like that are important, because if you don't exercise that muscle, it's very easy to just not want to be self-employed anymore.

Quinn: Sure.

Brian: Right.

Quinn: I did a lot of that when the World Cup was on, and it was great. I'm also very behind on some things, so-

Brian: To a point, to a point. How do you consume the news?

Ariel Waldman: Nowadays, through the web and, yeah, web and social media. I used to ... For years on end, I felt I was the only Millennial that, every day, I would watch the 5:30 p.m. NBC Nightly News. I watched that every day, until the election, and then I quit, cold turkey, because I couldn't handle it anymore.

Quinn: Why?

Brian: Oh, it's unbearable.

Ariel Waldman: I can't watch video of that person. It bothers me on a deep level.

Quinn: Yep.

Brian: Speaking of that person, if you could Amazon Prime one book to Donald Trump, what would it be?

Ariel Waldman: Oh, God. 

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative), we've had such a wide spectrum and, again, context. We have an Amazon wishlist, where we list all of these that our guests recommend. Folks go and they click on them, and they get sent straight to the White House.

Ariel Waldman: Oh.

Quinn: We've had everything from-

Ariel Waldman: They actually get sent?

Quinn: Uh-huh (affirmative), uh-huh (affirmative).

Ariel Waldman: Oh, my God.

Brian: They really do.

Quinn: We have had everything from coloring books to the Constitution, so hit me.

Ariel Waldman: Oh, God, I don't even ... I don't think I have a good answer for this, but I'll just-

Quinn: Anything.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, I just feel like there's much, much smarter answers out there than what I'm going to give, but there's a book called The Psychology of the Internet, which just details behaviors and how people interact on the Internet, and why interactions on the Internet need to still be taken seriously, and also the thinking behind it. It's way, way, way above his reading level.

Quinn: It's also perfectly applicable.

Brian: Yeah, this is a perfect book for him. Are you kidding? That's all he does [crosstalk 01:14:11].

Quinn: It's a fucking intervention guide.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, and then so ... I mean, I'd really like to recommend fundamental books about human rights, and things of that nature.

Brian: We've got those on the list, too.

Quinn: Baby steps.

Brian: You're [covered 01:14:22].

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, okay, yeah, so if I could come up with the perfect human rights book that would be at his reading level, that's what I would go with, but absent of that, I'm going with this Psychology of the Internet.

Brian: I think it's perfect, and he needs it.

Quinn: Awesome, awesome, awesome.

Brian: Hey, where can all of our followers, listeners, sorry, follow you online?

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, so I'm Ariel Waldman on pretty much everything. I have a YouTube channel. I'm on Twitter. I'm on Instagram. I'm on Patreon. All of those is just my name, Ariel Waldman.

Brian: Perfect.

Quinn: Awesome. Hey, I know we kept you forever. I hope your glass of water lasted throughout. We thought you sounded amazing. Thank you so much for all that you're doing, for all that you've done, for all that you're paying forward, and for taking the time to chat with us today-

Ariel Waldman: Yeah.

Quinn: And to put up with Brian. It's a lot.

Brian: We really appreciate ... Yeah, thank you.

Quinn: It's a lot.

Ariel Waldman: Thanks so much for having me.

Quinn: Yeah, for sure. Please keep kicking ass out there, and I'm going to go order some pillows from your website.

Ariel Waldman: Awesome.

Quinn: Yeah, all right, have a great day. Thank you so much, Ariel.

Ariel Waldman: Yeah, you too.

Brian: Yeah, thank you.

Ariel Waldman: All right.

Quinn: See you.

Ariel Waldman: Bye.

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 dishwashing or fucking dog walking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.

Brian: You can follow us all over the Internet. You can find us on Twitter @importantnotimp.

Quinn: Ah, it's just, it's so weird.

Brian: Also, on Facebook and Instagram @importantnotimportant. Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing, so check us out, follow us, share us, like us. You know the deal. Please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this. If you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcast. Keep the lights on, thanks.

Quinn: Please. 

Brian: You can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website,

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

Brian: Thanks, guys.