Professor Adrian Stoica’s research in artificial intelligence at Victoria University helped propel him towards becoming one of NASA’s most esteemed robotics engineers. But in a career that orbits around space, Professor Stoica’s next goals are as down-to-earth as they are world-changing.
We chatted about his incredible career, from its beginnings in his home country of Romania – where he worked as an embedded systems designer – to his study in Australia, appointment to NASA, and exciting future plans.
Adrian’s journey to NASA
“In 1989 I immigrated to Australia from Romania to develop my career. I was drawn to Australia for its quality of life and research possibilities. I also became an Australian citizen during that period, something of which I am very proud.
I completed my PhD with Victoria University’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, through an investigation of how robots learn by imitation of human movements.
After graduation, I won a place in the US Green Card lottery, and soon after landing in the States I was thrilled to be offered a job at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I was promoted through the ranks to senior research scientist – and here I am 22 years later!”
What skills does NASA look for?
“NASA seeks high skills in science, engineering and technology – as we are tasked to do things no one has done before. Then, they look for leadership and managerial abilities – those with both are in most demand, as they will guide others in missions to come.
But so importantly, it looks for the creative spirit. The innovative minds who will define where to go next in space. Those who change space exploration. Needless to say these people are rare.”
What does the future hold?
“I have many plans – one is to build a solar energy infrastructure at the South Pole of the Moon.
Another is to find a solution to helping elderly and sick people move unassisted – from bed to bathroom, or to a wheelchair. This became crucial to me as I experienced my own father’s ill-health and frailty.
In an age where we master nuclear reactions, and our spacecraft reach the ends of our solar system, we are not able to provide an elderly person with an assistive device. I can hardly think of a greater satisfaction than achieving this contribution to humanity.”