skip to main content
Home  /  Interviews  /  Michele Judd

Michele Judd

Michele Judd

Executive Director, Keck Institute for Space Studies, Ret.

By David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project

October 3, 24, 25, 2023

DAVID ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It is Tuesday, October 3, 2023. It's wonderful to be here with Michele Judd. Michele, I want to thank you so much for joining me today. We are here also with Professor Tom Prince, who along with Michele, launched the Keck Institute and nurtured it into what it is today.

MICHELE JUDD: I'm thrilled to be here.

ZIERLER: To start, please tell me your current or most recent title and affiliation at Caltech and JPL.

JUDD: Sure. I was the Executive Director of the Keck Institute for Space Studies.

ZIERLER: When did you step down?

JUDD: July 14, Bastille Day. I made my escape. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: And do you have a formal or informal ongoing connection to KISS or Caltech? You're just around when you want to see people?

JUDD: I would say I'm more in a consultancy role right now.

ZIERLER: What kinds of things are you connected to?

JUDD: Just writing up procedures and trying to help the Institute move forward in the face of the fact that we do not currently have an executive director.

ZIERLER: Are there plans to name a successor?

JUDD: Since I announced in January that I was retiring, [Laugh] there has been a long and lengthy search, and they're currently interviewing people.

ZIERLER: Some overview questions. How long did you serve in that role?

JUDD: Since 2008.

ZIERLER: Were you the inaugural holder of that position?

JUDD: Yes.

ZIERLER: Let's go right to 2008. What was happening in 2008 when you were being named Executive Director of KISS?

JUDD: I was at JPL, I was on the Science Division staff, and Tom Prince had sent me what looked like a proposal for something called the Keck Institute for Space Studies.

ZIERLER: This was your first time hearing about KISS.

JUDD: Yes. Weren't you in Santa Barbara?

TOM PRINCE: No, not then.

JUDD: You were on sabbatical or something?

PRINCE: I had been on sabbatical for part of the time that the proposal was being prepared. But I think by the time I talked to you, I was back.

JUDD: Okay. He sent me this proposal and said, "Hey, I'd really appreciate your feedback on this." And I'm like, "Well, I love Tom. Sure, I'll give him my feedback." I'm not quite sure he was ready for all the feedback I gave him. [Laugh] He sent me the document, I think the white paper or the proposal without money, because there was no money associated with it. I went through it, and I was like, "Nope. Nope. Oh, that's a good idea. Check, check, check. Nope, that's not going to work." [Laugh] He said, "Let's go meet on the mall at JPL and talk about your feedback on this proposal." We get to the mall. Huge mistake. Huge. Both Tom and I are popular at JPL, so we could not even start. Every time we started talking, "Tom." We'd finish with that person. "Michele." Finish with that person. "Tom." [Laugh]

ZIERLER: You needed to go to the secure classified room.

JUDD: We needed to go to 126 into the SCIF [Secure Compartmented Information Facility] or something because it was almost impossible to discuss.

ZIERLER: What was your point of contact? How did you know Tom Prince?

JUDD: When I first met Tom, he was the Chief Scientist at JPL.

ZIERLER: And what was your position?

JUDD: Oh, gosh. Maybe I had just finished up in Division 36, when we had a Division 36.

ZIERLER: What's Division 36?

JUDD: It was Software and Autonomy. It doesn't exist anymore. Remember, Rich Doyle was the division manager.

PRINCE: Oh, yeah.

JUDD: And that division split up into many different pieces and went to Division 34, Division 31, Division 39, Division 38. [Laugh] But when I truly started interacting with Tom, I was on division staff in Division 32, which is the Science Division. I was, I would say, the problem solver? [Laugh] I'm an engineer by training, and I'm a good translator, I would say. When I was originally hired at JPL, in Division 32, I was Engineer On Staff, so I was asked to help Division 32 relate to the rest of the Lab.

ZIERLER: Sort of like systems engineering at the administrative level?

JUDD: I wouldn't say that, per se. I would more say that Division 32 wanted the rest of JPL to understand the importance of science at JPL. JPL is, as you know, a largely engineering powerhouse. I believe that Division 32 was feeling like the amazing, brilliant scientists we have at JPL were not being seen as leaders in their field but rather as merely the scientific cogs to make the missions run. Is that fair to say, Tom?

PRINCE: Yeah. My perspective on that is that the scientists were not valued within the structure of JPL. In fact, one thing I did was really enhance what's called the Senior Research Scientists group there to become a self-standing group that could represent the scientists.

JUDD: Absolutely. That was huge.

PRINCE: I think that was after you got there.

ZIERLER: And this is all independent of Caltech? This is a JPL initiative?

PRINCE: Yeah, right.

JUDD: Absolutely. I was in the division, and I was given several things they thought would be helpful.

ZIERLER: Were you known to be a friend of the scientists?

JUDD: Yes, absolutely.

PRINCE: There was Division 32, which is a science division that Michele mentioned, then there are directorates. This is a matrix organization. Certainly, when I was Chief Scientist, the divisions were second to the directorates, which were the mission organizations. And I think of the divisions, then, science was one of the ones that was less valued.

ZIERLER: The org chart sort of reinforced this issue that you're describing?

JUDD: Well, Tom says the directorates were the missions. We refer to them as the money. [Laugh] They had all the money, and all of the divisions have the expertise. When you have a mission, the mission wants certain people, the division is supposed to provide the expertise in those particular areas.

PRINCE: Another comment is that there were segments of the Science Division, 32, which were totally focused on doing their own science, and science that was not relevant to JPL. It had been relevant at one point but no longer was. One of the things I worked on was trying to get the scientists more engaged with all the mission activity. Michele, then, had this position to try to really encourage the other parts of JPL to value the Science Division

ZIERLER: Had you worked substantively before the KISS proposal?

JUDD: Yes. I'm trying to remember the first time I met Tom. A lot of things, they would say, "Oh, Michele will fix it," or, "Michele will be working on it." A few of those things were the Foreign National Task Force, at the time, the Science Advisory Group. We worked together to do the very first R&T poster session, the very first post-doc research day with the awards. They don't do it anymore, but we used to try to do some recognition events for the scientist who won medals at COSPAR, AGU. Because a lot of times, people don't go to these conferences when JPL-ers are winning these huge medals. We invited their families, we had a reception for them, we took photographs with them, and that was huge. Then, anybody from Lab could come and see how well the scientists were being viewed by the rest of their colleagues. We even started up an awards committee in Division 32 primarily to write up nominations for our scientists to be acknowledged by fellows in their various areas.

ZIERLER: JPL's a big place. When Tom came to you with this KISS proposal, why do you think he came to you? What was he looking for?

JUDD: Well, one, he knew I could do things. He knew I looked at things very differently than he did. We laugh a lot because our Venn diagram of overlapping skills is, like, this much.

ZIERLER: [Laugh] Let the record state that was a very small area in the Venn diagram.

JUDD: The only thing in the middle of the diagram, really, was respect for each other and the same value system. And everything else, oh my God, so different. He is such an introvert. It's horrifying how we even speak. He's a scientist, I'm an engineer. He's a big-thinker, I'm like, "Are you crazy? No, this is how we have to do it." I would say, of all of our discussions, we disagreed almost all of the time, but at the end of the day, we do it my way, we do it his way, it doesn't matter because now, it's our way. But it takes a lot of discussion. He'll come in with this big idea, I'm like, "You are so insane," and I go away, and three days later, I come back and say, "Ah. I think we can do this." Or I tell him, "Here's something"–he's like, "Nope, can't be done." [Laugh] He'll come back a few days later and go, "Okay, if we twist it this way, I think we can do it." That's how we work together.

ZIERLER: How did you receive the proposal? An email? Tom, did you come hand her a big stack of papers?

JUDD: No, he sent me an email.

PRINCE: It was electronic of some sort.

JUDD: I printed it out.

ZIERLER: What was the proposal? A formal proposal to the NSF?

JUDD: No, to the Keck Foundation. We'll go into the history of how that was written out, but at the time that I received it, had already been funded by the Keck Foundation at midnight on the last day of 2007. [Laugh]

PRINCE: For tax purposes.

ZIERLER: This is a go, and your job is what, to refine it?

JUDD: I didn't know. He sent it to me and said, "What do you think?" I absolutely had nothing…

ZIERLER: Why not bring Michele in earlier in the proposal process before it's a done deal? As it would seem that that would've made it more likely to be a done deal.

JUDD: There's a funny story behind this. But you go.

PRINCE: No, you tell your story.

JUDD: No, the story will come out later. I don't think I was even considered in the broadest extent before Tom thought of it.

PRINCE: I think in discussions we had, I may have described the process. David Baltimore, faculty committee, then a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with the Keck Foundation, what they might like. Then, finally, working quite closely with Charles Elachi, that kind of stuff. Until they funded it, I had asked her impressions of the proposal, but that was kind of throwing the fishing rod out. Because I had already been thinking about Michele as executive director.

ZIERLER: That's the funny story?

JUDD: Well, yes. I just don't think I was even in the grand scheme until–they had already funded it, they were several months into startup. I didn't get in until several months after you started.

PRINCE: Well, it was funded, but it was a shell. It was something that had been approved. Because until it's funded, you don't rev up the whole organization. But then, it was very obvious it needed an executive director, to me. And this was the process. I don't know if we had had any sort of job position or whatever.

JUDD: No, nothing.

ZIERLER: It's already approved. You don't yet know that this is explicitly an offer.

JUDD: Heck no.

ZIERLER: What exactly was the ask?

JUDD: He sent me it and goes, "I'm involved with this project. I would really love you to read through it and point out your impressions as we go forward with this thing." I read through it, and I gave him many, many impressions.

ZIERLER: What were your impressions? What were the problems?

JUDD: My background is, I'm an engineer. My graduate degree is in organizational development, how leaders lead, how teams succeed and work together, and how leadership is a relationship with the team that they're leading. [Laugh] It's not just, "Follow me," it's actually a relationship. I was looking at this, and I just could not understand how this project would succeed when there was not one person working full-time to make it succeed. The proposal had a half-time executive director, it had a full-time assistant, a full-time web person, some computer help, and some other little things. And the director, who was part-time but not even funded with the Institute.

ZIERLER: Is this sole-author? A committee report?

PRINCE: It was a small group. I was the lead. I wrote a good fraction of it.

ZIERLER: Other Caltech faculty input?

PRINCE: Yeah, Caltech faculty, basically.

ZIERLER: No JPL input?

PRINCE: That, I'd have to go back and look at. I'm almost sure there was JPL input.

JUDD: I think there was.

PRINCE: There was a joint campus faculty and JPL group that thought up the idea of this center. Then, it transitioned into, "Now, we have to write a pre-proposal to the Keck Foundation," and I'm sure there were JPL-ers involved with that as well as faculty. And then, there was the big formal proposal, which I'm sure involved JPL-ers and faculty. By the way, Charles Elachi was very much involved with this. I'm sure he looked it over because we were going over budgets and that kind of thing. Can I ask a question of Michele? Did I send you the proposal before the January 1 midnight approval?


PRINCE: But after that.

JUDD: Like, way after that. I think it was May.

PRINCE: I seem to recall it was in spring, yeah.

JUDD: It was much later. And as I recall, Andy Ingersoll was the chair of the original white paper. When they came up with the idea, Andy Ingersoll was the original chair. And then, I remember Jack Beauchamp was on your thing.

PRINCE: Jack was the person who formulated the idea of a think-and-do center. Before that, we were playing around with ideas of think tanks. He sort of crystallized the idea that, "This should not only be a center to think about new ideas, but also then to do funding of ideas right after they were thought up to take them on the first step towards larger funding later." There's what's called the Valley of Death between the time you have an idea and the time it actually gets funded. It was to close that Valley. That was the think-and-do part of the center.

ZIERLER: You recognized right away that if this was going to be a serious thing, it needed a full-time dedicated executive director?

JUDD: Or somebody. I had already run my own business, I'd already had my own one-person consulting show. I knew how to do things soup to nuts. And to start up something that is so hard, I said, "You have to have somebody full-time. There's not even a question." Because he said, "Can you see yourself as part of this?" And I was like, "Absolutely not. If it's half-time, you're asking someone to really take on a two-person job at half pay. It's not possible."

ZIERLER: Did you look in the mirror and see yourself as being a solution?

JUDD: No. Tom said, "What would it take?" I said, "If it was a full-time person, you have a better shot." What I had said was something like, "This is going to be really hard. You're doing a startup. You are basically doing a startup. I've done startups. [Laugh] I know how hard this is. You do not want to be three years down the line"–one of the things I'd read in the proposal was, "For the first two three-year segments, Keck will evaluate you and decide whether you get more money or not." There's a plug that could be pulled in three years. And I said, "It's going to be super hard. You could hire someone half-time, but if you get to the three-year time and fail, did you fail because you didn't put full horsepower behind it or because it was a crappy idea? You don't know. But if you put someone in full-time, and their sole thing is to make this thing succeed, and you fail anyway, at least you know you gave it your best shot. That's something you need to think about."

ZIERLER: Aside from the administrative shortcomings, what it was lacking in terms of infrastructure, what about the idea itself?

JUDD: Oh, I thought it was a fantastic idea. We are very, very familiar with the Valley of Death. You get these great ideas, and you can't get proof of concept, you can't get a bread board, you're just scraping money from anywhere to try and move forward.

ZIERLER: Can you think of a project you were involved with at JPL that exemplified this problem for which KISS presented itself as the solution?

JUDD: No. I can't. I know of many, many that other people dealt with, but that was not my key contribution, getting us past the Valley of Death. When I first started at JPL–I guess we have to talk about how I got to JPL. I'd worked for Mobil Oil for 12 years, I was working for the president at the time, Mobil Exploration and Producing US, and Exxon was taking over Mobil. I wanted nothing to do Exxon. Their environmental record was terrible, I had been the Inclusion and Diversity Adviser to the President, and we had fought to have same-sex partners recognized in the benefit plans for Mobil, and Exxon said, "We're not doing that." I was like, "I'm not going to work for you." [Laugh] The requirement at the time they were merging was that if they offered you three different jobs, and you turned them all down, you could leave with a golden handshake, so that's what I did. Then, I moved back to California from Dallas and started my own consulting firm. My mom sent me–she circled it in red, and it said, "JPL is looking for people to provide executives feedback. You've been a space geek since you were little. I think you'd be interested in this."

ZIERLER: What year was this?

JUDD: 2000. I'm like, "Okay." I submitted my résumé, and they had 226 applicants. They interviewed seven. And I know I'm perfect for this job. I get to the end of the interview, and I could tell something was off. I knew they liked me, but they were like, "Ooh. Eee." I said, "Look, I'm perfect for this job. I know I'm perfect for this job. But if there's anything that I have not explained well or that you think I might be not a great fit, I would love if you gave me the opportunity to address it. If what you say is not something I can do, I will tell you right out, 'Go get somebody else. That's not me.'"

ZIERLER: Do you have any idea if the late-90s Mars mission failures culturally produced this need for this kind of straight-talking job?

JUDD: I don't think so. I think they'd had an ongoing process of feedback. But I'm not sure. I was unaware of that.

ZIERLER: What about a new Elachi initiative, coming in right after Ed Stone?

JUDD: It was Ed Stone.

PRINCE: This was when Ed Stone was finishing up.

JUDD: He was my first director. At the end, they said, "You're right. You have the engineering background, you've got the organizational development background, but you are really loud. You're a little too much for a very conservative place like JPL." And I'm like, "Oh my God. I am so glad you mentioned that." And they're like, "Why?" I said, "Because I can't imagine a more conservative place than an oil company, in which I ended up working for the president."

ZIERLER: In Texas.

JUDD: In Texas. And they said, "Oh, that's a good point." And I got the job.

PRINCE: I never knew any of this.

JUDD: The first year I was at JPL, I was Head of Executive Feedback. You had to volunteer to be at the program, and we would do 360s on everybody, I'd meet with the leader, I'd meet with the team, we'd meet together, we'd come up with action plans. I still have some of those leaders contact me and say, "Hey, what would I do in this situation?" [Laugh]

ZIERLER: I want to go back to 2008 because I want to exemplify the Valley of Death idea. Tom, maybe you come in on this. What was a mission or idea that was stuck in that Valley for which KISS was a proposed institutional administrative solution?

JUDD: It would not have been a mission because a mission's already been done. It would be fundamental research of ideas, and you would hardly know about them because they could never get the money to get up and start it.

ZIERLER: What about institutionally, the idea that, as you were explaining, JPL is an engineering juggernaut, but the value that you're talking about seems to be, like you said, fundamental research? What's a scientific idea that should have gotten started, should have flourished at JPL and never did? I just want one example to put a fine point on what the problem is.

PRINCE: I'll give you one. And by the way, my background on the Valley of Death is, that's a problem I was trying to solve continuously as Chief Scientist. And that's why I started the R&TD program, to fund good ideas early in their cycles so that they could then succeed later in getting new funding. I did that with the R&TD program. One specific example, Jonas Zmuidzinas was developing a certain type of detector called an MKID and having a lot of problems with getting that funded. It was a new type of detector. Now, all kinds of people are using MKIDs. It was a semiconductor detector. A lot of problems getting that initial idea funded. That's an example. What did I do? He was just at his wit's end. He thought, "I think this is a great idea. Listen to it." I got it funded at JPL to tide him over until he could get funding for it, then we'd go forward. After that, he did.

ZIERLER: You mean externally.

PRINCE: NSF funding, yeah. Eventually, he became the Director of the Microdevices Laboratory at JPL. But there was that critical period where it was, "I've got this great idea. I know it's going to work."

ZIERLER: But without that lifeline, it goes nowhere.

PRINCE: Yeah, it goes into the Valley of Death. That's one example. My memory isn't so good. Back then, I probably could've cited you 20 examples of things that had trouble in that initial period.

ZIERLER: With any great idea, the immediate question is, "Why did it take so long?" 2008 seems relatively late in the game, given the history of the partnership between Caltech and JPL. Why was something similar not around 30 or 40 years prior?

JUDD: I'll give you my perspective. You cut me, and little spurts of JPL blood come out. I was assimilated by Caltech. JPL-ers never view themselves as part of Caltech. Never.

ZIERLER: Right. I'm frustrated every time I hear it. And institutionally, Caltech wants to say, "It's one Caltech."

JUDD: I hear that, but in 2000, when I started as a consultant at JPL, not a full-time employee, JPL was like, "Caltech? Is the tail wagging the dog? We are the dog. We know how to do things. All of you faculty on your little tall, white pillars looking down upon us while we actually get things done and fly things all over the solar system. These ivory-tower big brains can't think themselves into an engineering project if they tried." Then, the Caltech side is like–and this is the JPL perspective–"The ideas come from us on high, and JPL should do anything we say." That was the JPL perspective.

ZIERLER: Really, this is sort of like family therapy, getting everybody on the same wavelength.

PRINCE: Yeah. By the way, you probably know there's a little bit of history here about specifically Geology and Planetary Sciences getting into an antagonistic stature with regard to JPL. If you don't know that, that's my perspective.

ZIERLER: Are we talking the Gerry Wasserburg days?

PRINCE: More like Bruce Murray. And I don't know in detail, but definitely, there was an antagonism between GPS, which should be the primary connection, and JPL. When I became Chief Scientist, it was very clear to me that there was a gulf there between those two.

ZIERLER: What about astronomers, like Shri Kulkarni and Mike Brown, being so closely in the planetary world and not necessarily in the astronomy world? Was that a factor?

PRINCE: There, I think the relationships were better. You have IPAC, IRAS, Gary Neugebauer having these ideas about infrared astronomy, then going up to JPL and working with them to implement it, and doing a very successful first infrared satellite. I think the situation was different from the Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy perspective than with GPS. And like I said, not being part of GPS, I don't know all the details of how that arose. But it was very clear to me when I was Chief Scientist that there were not good feelings at all between Geology and Planetary Science and JPL.

ZIERLER: You redlined this proposal, pointed out all the problems. What was Tom's response to that? "Can you fix this for real by becoming Executive Director?"

JUDD: It was something like, "If there were a full-time executive director, is this something you would think about?" And I was like, "I hadn't even thought about it," because I was so clueless, I couldn't even imagine that this would be something–he was just asking me for feedback. When he said that, I almost fell off of my chair because I love my job. I would never have left JPL. I love JPL.

ZIERLER: You were doing more or less the same thing you'd been hired to do eight years prior?

JUDD: No, no, no, it was completely different. I finished a one-year contract of executive coaching, and I was about to leave. Then, Anne Taormina, one of the section managers of 367, which was the autonomy section of Division 36, software, said, "I think you should stay. I think you should work for me in my section. I'm still not sure what you're going to do. [Laugh] But I know you could make a big difference here. I've already talked to HR. Here's what we can offer you." I looked at it, and it was half my salary. And I'm like, "No." I went home, and I don't know what happened on that ride home. I get home, and about half an hour later, I am crying. Not the beautiful supermodel tears, I mean snotty, disgusting, red-faced.

ZIERLER: You felt devalued?

JUDD: No, I was like, "What am I doing? Why is it making me so upset not to work at JPL?" And I think it's because I grew up in a family without money. We never wanted for anything. We always had food on the table, clothes, everything we absolutely needed. But I think being brought up in a family of immigrants, everything was, "How much money do you have? How much stature do you have?" It was all about, "I had a Jaguar. I had Louis Vuitton purses. I had incredible suits." This was the thing. And I just was so unhappy not to take this job. I'm like, "What is wrong with me?" I finally said, "This is my life. I don't have kids. If I took a job that was half the pay, I could get rid of the Jaguar. They all wear jeans at JPL. Do I need a suit? I could get a backpack." I went back the next day, and I said, "Give me one dollar more." And the HR person was like, "Are you fricking kidding me? We have to rewrite this whole thing for one dollar more?" And Anne Taormina's like, "Give her one dollar more." [Laugh]

I started, and I was called the Development Liaison. They assigned me two groups to work with. One was OASIS, Onboard Autonomous Science Investigation System, and the other one was QuakeSim. They gave me those two teams to work with, and they also had me do a marketing brochure for the actual section, which Division 32 saw, the Science Division. And they were like, "Oh my God, we need you to do something like this for us." Because everybody saw this, and everybody saw these overviews of these specialty research areas but in autonomy. In quantum computing, in machine learning, in artificial intelligence. It got a lot of splash. And the two teams that I got assigned to, not due to me, both won Software of the Year awards eventually.

I will say, one of the things I was good at was working with sponsors and helping translate. OASIS had this thing they were calling the rock detector. It would be on the rover. There's a lot of engineering data taken on a rover. It would take images just to make sure that when it was trying to find a path autonomously, it could get around it. What this system wanted to do was take the image, find all the rocks in it, extract the albedo of the rocks, the size of the rocks, and give it to the scientist. For instance, say scientists wanted to find the largest, whitest rock. Take this engineering image, and it would identify the largest, whitest rock, and then it could autonomously put the Pancam image, a science image, and take the image of that and send it back at the same time the next day. Whereas if you'd had this little image, and it goes back to the scientists, they go, "Oh, we want to have a really good picture of that large white rock," then they have to upload the command again, then get it to the rover, the rover would re-task itself for that day to take a picture of that large white rock. But if you could do it just using machine learning techniques, then to take that picture and send it back, if you were right, you saved an entire day of commands. I would look at the thing, and they could not get funding. They had a little bit of funding.

ZIERLER: Where should they have gotten funding from?

JUDD: They were trying to get funding from NASA. And they did get funding, they just couldn't get enough to really kick of the project. I was looking at their results, and I go, "Your problem is, you don't have a rock detector." Oh my God, you would've thought I had shot the sheriff or something. I said, "Just stop, listen. In this one image, there could be 500 rocks. You're not finding them all. What you have built is a target selector. You need to rewrite all your proposals to say, "We are offering you a target-selection device that will save X amount of time." But they were trying to sell a rock detector, and they weren't finding half the rocks in the picture. If you sell it as a rock detector, and you're not finding them all, it's not a rock detector. And they got funded and got NASA Software of the Year.

QuakeSim, led by Andrea Donnellan, got Software of the Year years after I'd left. But at the very beginning, they had me working with the sponsor. And I don't know anything about software. That's not my thing. I remember, Robert Ferraro was the sponsor. Years later, he said, "You came into my office, and I thought you were insane. You knew nothing about software." But I do listen, and I listened to what he wanted, and I was able to take what he wanted, translate it to the science team so that they could deliver more of what he wanted, and they got more and more funding over the years because they could actually see what was wanted by the sponsor. And once you make a sponsor look good, they just want to give you more money.

ZIERLER: Was Michele's reputation for making things happen what you were aware of to make you send the proposal in the first place?


JUDD: No, because this was so focused on this division. It was not until Andrea Donnellan became the deputy at the Science Division that she was like, "You need to get Michele and bring her to the Science Division. Here are the things we should have her do." For instance, when I made it to the Science Division, my goal was to make sure people knew about the science at JPL. And the science of Division 32. To be clear, as Tom will tell you, there are many fantastic scientists not in Division 32, but there were a great many in Division 32.

ZIERLER: That's the critical mass at JPL?

JUDD: For science, yes. Then, they were saying, "Okay, you need to come up with a website where it does an overview of every scientist." Oh my God. The scientists were so angry. They were like, "We do not want to have to do this." And I admit it was a little before everybody had their own website. But man, they were angry. They did it, then all of a sudden, they were getting contacted to be PIs on missions or asked to be on somebody else's project. That ended up working great. Then, we did the Science 101 lectures. I started that, and that went out great.

ZIERLER: What was that?

JUDD: We'd decided we needed to do 101-level–actually, it was high school-level really, but we called it 101 to make the scientists feel better about it. To get engineers to understand the value of science, we started a whole lecture series that was at the level of, "You can understand the type of science, and this is why it's important." And my God, we had the worst time with scientists because they would come in with a 401-level lecture. And one of the things I also do is coaching on public speaking. We made them give the lecture to me, the division chair, and whoever else on the division staff before they could even give a lecture. "Who are you that you should be telling us what we should be talking about?" I'm like, "I'm going to try and help here." We had people coming in at the 401 level, and they went back and redid it, 301. 201. We finally got them down to 101.

ZIERLER: 101 means intro level?

JUDD: Yes.

PRINCE: 101 is a standard term widely used.

JUDD: I just remember scientists being so angry, but when they gave the talk and got great feedback, and people understood what they were talking about, they weren't talking in acronyms, they actually set context for talks, it just completely changed how people started viewing science at JPL, but also how they started viewing their role as explaining science to others. I still remember one day, the division manager couldn't be there for the practice, and they gave their talk to me, and I was like, "Here's what's great about your talk, and here's why you can't give that talk." And they were furious. Thank God the division manager backed me up, and he said, "Okay, give me the talk." One of the most esteemed scientists on the lab. And the person gave them the talk, and the division manager was like, "I did not understand half of your talk." And that really made an impact on that person.

ZIERLER: What was the alarm bell there?

JUDD: If the division manager did not understand what you were talking about, you were not at the right level for the whole rest of the lab. And that absolutely was, "Oh my God, I had no idea." They couldn't believe the division manager could not understand them. It was beyond their comprehension.

ZIERLER: To go back to the idea that you had loved your work, you weren't thinking about moving, the executive director, KISS was all way out in left field for you, were you already solving the problems that you're now explaining to me?

JUDD: Yes.

ZIERLER: And this is what you were enjoying?

JUDD: Yes. And working with the Science Advisory Group. That's when I was working with Tom. And creating the very first Research and Development Poster Session, having the very first Post-doc Research Day. These are the types of things that were elevating science at JPL.

ZIERLER: Because you're so fluent in institutional culture, understanding what makes a place tick or how it should tick and getting it there, from 2000 to 2008, how much institutional appreciation did you have for Caltech? Did you understand campus?

JUDD: Nothing.

ZIERLER: You didn't spend time here?

JUDD: No. Why would I? They are on their towers. We're the dog. They're the tail. I liked Tom. That was about it. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: We'll go forward from 2008 to see how that changes to yes. Let's go back now, though. Immigrant family. Where's your family from?

JUDD: My dad's from New Zealand, my mom's from Samoa. And so, my mom was always born a California girl in her heart. As soon as she finished high school, she moved to New Zealand. She had Auntie Chrissy there.

ZIERLER: Is New Zealand a common destination for emigrating Samoans?

JUDD: Yes. It's basically the first step. And so, family's there, my mom stayed there until she got her visa and everything approved. We have another auntie here in the United States, and then she was sponsored to come to the United States. In the meantime, she met my dad.

ZIERLER: Where did they meet?

JUDD: My dad was in the RNZAF, the Royal New Zealand Air Force. And they met in the mail room. They dated, and then her paperwork came through, and she was like, "See ya," and she left. The next day, there was a little knock on the door of her auntie's house, and there was a very handsome RNZAF officer–not my dad–with a letter and a ring for my mom. And she sent him packing. She was like, "No. See you. Bye." Then, when she got her US citizenship, she flew back, married my dad, and brought him over.

ZIERLER: Do you still have family in Samoa?

JUDD: Oh, yes.

ZIERLER: Have you visited them?

JUDD: Oh, yes.

ZIERLER: What is it like in Samoa?

JUDD: I haven't visited since I was little. Last time I saw them, I was 12. I go to New Zealand a lot. But it was just this amazing island of palm trees, gorgeous oceans. My relatives were there, but I was never as close to them as I was to my New Zealand relatives. And there were so many of them. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: How many generations does your father go back in New Zealand?

JUDD: The Judds came from England originally. We have a huge family tree of the Judd that came on some ship. I would say several generations. But my grandma was from Waterford, and she went to be basically the au pair at a little farm in Pahiatua, and they were pretty awful to her. She went very young, and she wanted to go back home. But they hid all the letters from her family, and none of the letters that she sent out were delivered. She was basically abandoned in New Zealand, and it was a pretty rough go for her.

ZIERLER: Is there a tradition of military service in your dad's family?

JUDD: No. They're all farmers.

ZIERLER: What is the socioeconomic position of Samoans in New Zealand? Are there frustrations like second-class citizenship?

JUDD: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

ZIERLER: And your mom's ultimate goal was always…

JUDD: Always California. Not even US. Not even California, Los Angeles.

ZIERLER: Like, movies and Disneyland?

JUDD: Yep.

ZIERLER: And what was the opportunity that got her here?

JUDD: It was just that she was sponsored by family members. Once in New Zealand, and she was like, "I'll do anything."

ZIERLER: When she finally was secure enough to send for your dad, he was all in?

JUDD: He was just like, "I'll leave anything. I'm following you." He had many jobs. It was whatever he could do. He was selling cars, selling clothes. Whatever he could do. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: And they were married in California?

JUDD: They were married in Auckland because she could not bring him unless they were married.

ZIERLER: Where did they land as a married couple?

JUDD: Los Angeles.

ZIERLER: You were born in Los Angeles?

JUDD: Queen of Angels Hospital, downtown LA, which no longer exists. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: Siblings?

JUDD: Yes, I have a sister and a brother. I'm the oldest.

ZIERLER: Where do you grow up?

JUDD: We grew up in LA. We were a little time in Arizona, but mostly in LA. Then, when I turned 5, we moved back to New Zealand. I lived there for seven years, and then we moved back because my mom was like, "If we don't move back to LA, you will be taking the three children and figuring out what to do with them in New Zealand."

ZIERLER: What were the circumstances around moving back to New Zealand?

JUDD: Just because dad felt he was trying to do better for the family, and he had better job opportunities in New Zealand. But she gave him seven years, and that was it.

ZIERLER: How did he do in those seven years?

JUDD: He did okay. She just would not have been happy no matter what in New Zealand. It wasn't big enough, it was never going to be LA.

ZIERLER: Do you have strong memories of those years in New Zealand?

JUDD: Oh, yeah.

ZIERLER: What was it like for you?

JUDD: It was amazing. We would run through the fields, ride horses, every Friday, we'd walk up the hill and get fish and chips and bring them back for dinner. We saw my grandparents and all my family.

ZIERLER: Between being American-born with a Samoan mom, did you feel like an outsider? Or were you pretty well-integrated?

JUDD: I never feel like an outsider. I feel everybody's lucky to be with me. [Laugh] Maybe the rest of my family felt differently. I have a very high self-esteem. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: What was the decision-making to come back to the States?

JUDD: My mom was like, "We're leaving." My dad had built her a house, and she sold it and said, "We are going back to the US." [Laugh]

ZIERLER: Back to Los Angeles?

JUDD: Mm-hmm.

ZIERLER: Back to the same neighborhood?

JUDD: We moved to the San Fernando Valley because she had a girlfriend who lived in the San Fernando Valley.

ZIERLER: Did your father ever establish sort of a career?

JUDD: Yeah, he ended up being a master carpenter. Carpenters make a good living.

ZIERLER: And growing up, you said you were a space geek.

JUDD: Yeah. Oh my God.

ZIERLER: What were some of the formative events?

JUDD: Star Trek. The fact that Lieutenant Uhura was on the bridge, oh my God. That was amazing. I actually told her that. Mae Jemison had asked me to come to her 25th anniversary at the California Space Center under the Shuttle that she took for her flight. I got to meet Nichelle Nichols, and I told her that. And she was like, "Oh my God." She was thrilled to have had an impact. And she knows she had an impact, but to hear it again from someone who was helping run a think tank that was so well-respected made her feel good.

ZIERLER: How old were you when you got back to Los Angeles?

JUDD: 12.

ZIERLER: Being in Los Angeles, Caltech, JPL, did that register with you at all?

JUDD: Oh, absolutely. As far as I was concerned, everybody who was anybody knew what Caltech and JPL were. Although, I do remember I was talking with somebody, maybe on a date or something, and I mentioned JPL and the person went, "They make great speakers." "No, not JBL. JPL." "I don't know what that is." And the date ended very shortly after that. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: Where did you go to high school?

JUDD: James Monroe High School.

ZIERLER: Strong curriculum in math and science?

JUDD: I would not say that. I don't know, it was a public school. I freaked out the school counselor the very first day I went to school. I went in, I knocked on the door, and it was Steven Kleinberg, and he said, "Hi. Normally sophomores don't see me." It was only a three-year school. I said, "I need to know what career I need to have to make money, make sure I have a guaranteed highest-paying job. I'm only ever going to go to school for four years." He's like, "Uh, I don't know. Can you come back tomorrow? I'll do some research." There were no computers in that day. He got out all the books, and I come back the next day, and he's like, "Petroleum engineer." I'm like, "Okay, I'm going to be a petroleum engineer." He's like, "I don't know what that is." I go, "I don't know either, but I can do it." I said, "What schools are there in California?" He goes, "Stanford and Berkeley." I go, "Okay, that's where I'm going to go. One of those two places, that's where I'm going to go." He's like, "Okay." [Laugh]

ZIERLER: Not to put you on the psychologist couch, but do you think the motivation for stability was watching how your parents struggled?

JUDD: Probably. I know it was definitely for my sister. Less so for me, but still, I just wanted to make sure that I was taking care of myself. I didn't want to rely on anybody. I wanted to take care of myself.

ZIERLER: Are those the two schools you applied to?

JUDD: Yeah.

ZIERLER: How'd you do?

JUDD: I got into both.

ZIERLER: Where did you graduate in your class in high school?

JUDD: That's a funny story. [Laugh] The LA Times did a story on us. There were 16 of us valedictorians.

PRINCE: 16 valedictorians?

JUDD: 16. Never in the history of any school…

ZIERLER: You all had the same grade?

JUDD: Because they didn't have AP scores, they didn't have–but they did the story before we graduated. I was the only one of the 16 who did not actually graduate valedictorian.

ZIERLER: You got, like, an A-minus in something?

JUDD: I had pneumonia, I was in the hospital for three weeks, and my physics teacher ended up giving me an absolutely deserved B because I completely did not do well on that exam. And oh my God, the faculty gave him a hard time. I'm like, "Don't give him a hard time. It's what I deserved. It's fine." I still spoke at graduation. [Laugh] But I was the only one not valedictorian.

ZIERLER: 15 valedictorians and Michele.

JUDD: It was pretty funny. That's how it happened.

ZIERLER: What was your decision? Where'd you go to school?

JUDD: Stanford.


JUDD: One, I look better in red, but in my mind, it had always been the place. And Cal was really cool, and they actually sent some people down to interview me for Cal as well. And they were so nice, and I really liked them. I don't know why, but in my heart, I had just–I'd never seen or visited any of the schools, I'd just read up on them a little. I just ended up going to Stanford.

ZIERLER: What about the tuition differential?

JUDD: It was hard. I had scholarships…

ZIERLER: Stanford did not give a scholarship that would've made it the same as Berkeley?

JUDD: I came in with scholarships. There were Pell Grants. We made little enough money that I could qualify for Pell Grants at the time, so I had that, but every year at Stanford, I had at least three jobs. They didn't give me a full ride or anything. And then, when I worked the summer in the oil industry, they took all the money and subtracted it off–it was a tough go. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: Caltech, UCLA, you never gave anything thought to staying closer?

JUDD: They didn't have petroleum engineering.

ZIERLER: Simple as that.

JUDD: If they told me astronomy provided the most money, that's what I would've done.

ZIERLER: You probably should've gone to ask somebody else.

JUDD: Whatever the number was, that was what I was going to do. Because petroleum engineers were hot commodities.

ZIERLER: What year did you start at Stanford?

JUDD: '83.

ZIERLER: Is that a standalone program, petroleum engineering? Is it a subset of the engineering school?

JUDD: No, it was a combination of the School of Earth Sciences, since there was so much geology, and engineering. But it officially resided in the School of Earth Sciences.

ZIERLER: Tell me about the curriculum. What do you start with?

JUDD: You have to go through the weeder classes like physics, and that class was so crazy. My first grade was a 26 out of 100 on the first exam, and a third of the class dropped on the first exam. It ended up being a B. [Laugh] It was crazy. Same thing with chemistry. They were just trying to weed out people who wanted to be doctors or what have you. It was, "If you really want it, you're going to have to just"–and having gone to Stanford after being at a public high school, that was rough. What they would do now, and Caltech does it to, which I absolutely agree with, is they will bring you in early and give you massive catchup time. "Here are the things you have to even make it into the class." It was rough.

ZIERLER: There was a dynamic of wealthy private-school students who were better-prepared at Stanford?

JUDD: Oh my God, yes. Totally. There were lots of things that made me stand out from the average applicant. I was a professional dancer…

ZIERLER: A professional dancer?

JUDD: Well, I was a hula dancer that got paid money to go to different countries. I was pretty good.

ZIERLER: How did you get involved in that?

JUDD: My mom is Samoan, so she wanted us to know our heritage. There was Tahitian dance, hula dance, Hawaiian, Maori, Samoan. I knew how to do all of those. I danced at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. After I left, my group got to do the 1984 Olympics.

ZIERLER: How long did it take at Stanford before you settled down and were okay in the classes?

JUDD: I don't know, it was rough. The first year was brutal.

ZIERLER: Was there any petroleum engineering the first year?

JUDD: There was, but it was petroleum engineering 101. I ended up actually being the lead TA for that my senior year. But PE 101 was the first class I took for the major, and I crushed that.

ZIERLER: What was the social scene like at Stanford? Party school? Everyone is working all hours?

JUDD: I never felt like it was a party school. Ever. [Laugh] It's not that they didn't party, but I never felt it was a party school. It was a very interesting school. Down the hall from me was Jennifer Grant, Cary Grant's daughter, then there was a prince from somewhere, and his body guards had to live outside his room or whatever. But he ended up having to leave because there was some uprising in his Middle-Eastern country, and he had to go back and manage that. It was a very interesting dynamic of people who had access to a lot of connections. I didn't even know about graduate school, honest to God. I was the first kid in my family to have ever gone to school, and I couldn't even imagine a graduate degree in anything. I couldn't imagine anything like that. I was always just focused on the four-year thing.

Having known what I know now, I would advise people, if you're going to go to graduate school, go to a school where you're going to be happy, and you're going to crush it, and you're going to build your self-confidence. Go to the best graduate school you can go to after that. But in the beginning, if you're going to go to graduate school later, go somewhere you can build your self-esteem, build your connections, do research, be a big fish. That's what you want to be. But going to Stanford, I was not a big fish. I was just lucky to be in the stream. [Laugh] And that's a rude awakening when you are used to crushing everything. It's not that I wasn't capable, I just didn't have the background. It was hard. But I did well. And I was the first undergraduate president of the Society of Petroleum Engineers at Stanford.

ZIERLER: Did you keep up dancing?

JUDD: No. I had three jobs. [Laugh] I was barely surviving.

ZIERLER: What were your jobs?

JUDD: I worked in food service, I worked in the bookstore, I worked as a TA. [Laugh] I'm trying to remember. So many different things. I'm a foodie. I ended up managing an eating club, hiring a chef, doing the menus, the rotation of work staff. All the water polo players, all these Olympians wanted to be in my club because I had the best food.

PRINCE: Michele is an amazing foodie. She's famous for that. When did that start?

JUDD: I actually didn't start cooking really until maybe my 40s.

PRINCE: When did the appreciation start?

JUDD: The appreciation for food was since I was small.

PRINCE: From your parents?

JUDD: I wouldn't say that, I just have always loved and appreciated great food.

ZIERLER: The working was to support yourself, to graduate debt-free, all of the above?

JUDD: I did not graduate debt-free. It took me 10 years to pay off all of my loans. But it was just so I could have enough money to get by. [Laugh] I never felt like I had enough.

ZIERLER: What did you do for the summers?

JUDD: I would work at an oil-industry internship.

ZIERLER: You didn't go back to LA?

JUDD: I went back to LA the first year because Mobil had a position down in Santa Fe Springs. I was a roustabout in the fields, digging holes, threading pipe. I had biceps you would die for.

ZIERLER: What does roustabout mean?

JUDD: In the oil industry, it's just a grunt on the ground. "Go run and get me the 48-inch wrench." I could barely lift the 48-inch wrench. You'd have to dig holes, fill in holes, you'd be running around getting water. It was dirty, dirty, dirty work.

ZIERLER: This must've been primarily a guy's kind of environment. Would you have been the only woman around?

JUDD: I was.

ZIERLER: How did you and others deal with that?

JUDD: Eh, as you can imagine, some people wanted to make you their little sister, some people wanted to feel you up. [Laugh] It was very different. It was funny because I worked really hard. If I was going to do something, I was going to do it right. They were like, "Slow down. Don't do too much." [Laugh]

ZIERLER: By sophomore year, you're taking serious petroleum engineering classes.

JUDD: Yeah.

ZIERLER: What aspects of the curriculum are basic science, and what aspects are really geared toward, "Here's how we find the oil"?

JUDD: The first couple years, it's really basic. But you're taking Geology 101, then you take Reservoir Engineering to understand fluid flow through porous media. You don't really start getting to the petroleum engineering stuff until your junior or senior year. The rest of it is basic thermodynamics, and the chemistry. I hated chemistry, oh my God. Because all of the pre-med students were taking chemistry, and they had to do well. I just had to pass. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: How many different oil companies did you end up working for during those summers?

JUDD: I think it ended up being two. Because I worked for Mobil twice, and I worked for Champlin Petroleum once. Champlin Petroleum was a tough job. That was out of Houston, Galveston. I actually went out on a drilling rig, and that did not go well. That was a two-week stint on a drilling rig, and I was the only woman on the platform. There was no space for me to sleep. They kicked the chef out and told the chef to sleep with the roustabouts or something. Oh my God, this did not go well. We did not get good food for two weeks. That was very rough. That was a rough time for me. There aren't a lot of places to escape when people are trying to catch you. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: In all of your undergraduate years, do you have any recollection of anybody talking about or associating the oil industry with pollution, oil spills? This would've been the very earliest days of concern about carbon emissions. Was there any association between oil and environmental problems?

JUDD: I will say that for me, I felt like Mobil was really good at that, but only because they didn't want to waste money.

ZIERLER: They were good environmental stewards from an efficiency perspective.

JUDD: [Laugh] Exactly. I don't think it was an environmental concern until later. But that was just my perspective.

ZIERLER: When did you start thinking about career opportunities? Were you getting offers as a senior?

JUDD: The whole point was to get career opportunities from the very beginning. That's why I went to all of these internships. But yeah, I had multiple offers before December of my senior year.

ZIERLER: And graduate school never…

JUDD: Never even occurred to me. Wasn't even on the horizon. It was, "I'm going to make money."

ZIERLER: Were there any professors who encouraged you to consider it?

JUDD: I will say no because I was not the best student. I was a good student, not the best student. I had a fantastic advisor, and he was like, "Okay, we need to address some deficiencies here." [Laugh]

ZIERLER: Who was your advisor?

JUDD: He was my advisor for, like, a quarter, and then he got poached by a different university. I just remember his face. He was amazing. I really appreciated him.

ZIERLER: For the internships, any connection that you had with industry as a student, did you see people? Were there executives who had graduate degrees? Did you ever associate industrial career success with an advanced degree?

JUDD: It really wasn't a thing. If you were going to have a PhD, you were at the Mobil Research Center. You were not in the field. There were a couple people with master's degrees in, like, MBAs, or maybe they had a master's degree in geology, but it wasn't really a thing. It was, "Get out there, and learn how to do it."

ZIERLER: What was the offer that was most attractive to you?

JUDD: It was Mobil. But I knew I was going to go with Mobil. All the money was about the same. But it was really about the culture of the organization for me. Made a huge mistake my first job. They offered me this job, and it was in San Ardo. If you don't know where San Ardo is, it's north of Paso Robles on the 101. It's an oil field that you just drive right by, about 45 minutes up the 101. For a single woman to go to such a tiny, tiny place, and to have no other women engineers, and to have no support, and to have no–there's nothing. When I lived in Paso Robles–you couldn't live in San Ardo, it was too small. Paso Robles was the nearest place. It was 10,000 people then. It was very been so much better to go to a place that actually had other single engineers, other women, other anything. But it was hard.

ZIERLER: That was your first job.

JUDD: Mm-hmm. I was as petroleum engineer at San Ardo.

ZIERLER: What was the job? Find oil?

JUDD: No, we knew oil was there. It was, "How do you best get it out of the ground in the most efficient manner?" It was so thick, it's like there are. You had to steam it out of the ground. You have steam injectors forcing the oil through the sand, then you'd have pumps because it doesn't flow out of the ground. It has to be painfully brought to the surface.

ZIERLER: How long were you in that job for?

JUDD: Maybe three years. Then, I was offered a foreman position at another oil field.

ZIERLER: You took it.

JUDD: I did.

ZIERLER: Where was that oil field?

JUDD: Lost Hills. It's north of Bakersfield, about 30, 45 minutes.

PRINCE: Paso Robles was probably a metropolis compared to Lost Hills. [Laugh]

JUDD: Yes, but if you were in Lost Hills, you could think about living in Bakersfield. But the change in distance wasn't enough to move. But besides the two years of starting up KISS, being the production foreman was the toughest job I ever had. That was really hard.


JUDD: Other people thought they should've had the job. People who had worked their way up the ranks. That's the top position you can have in the oil field if you have no degree, if you've just been through high school, and you've worked yourself up from roustabout, to technician, to foreman. And other people thought they should've had it. That was tough.

ZIERLER: How many people were you managing?

JUDD: Maybe 10. Maybe a little less than 10. Those were rough times. They would cover my car with porn, they would put dope in my hard hat. I don't know if you've ever heard of dope, but it's a sealant used when twisting pipes together. They would put it in my hard hat, and it's almost impossible to get out of your hair. It was rough. And I was pretty hard with my team. I had a lot of leadership learning in that time about how to have a team who wasn't a team of engineers. Years after I left that job, I got letters from my team saying, "Looking back, you were hard on us, but that was the most we ever learned. And we got great jobs because you trained us."

ZIERLER: Did you have a mentor that you learned leadership from? Or you figured it out on your own?

JUDD: Well, I made a lot of mistakes. I'm good at learning from mistakes. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: What are you thinking of?

JUDD: We had a blowout where they lost control of a well once, and the first mistake was, my deputy was at that rig, I was on another rig. Over the radio, I said, "Do you need help?" First of all, I said, "Is everybody safe?" "Yes." "Is the well under control." "Yes." And then, I made the fatal mistake of asking, "Do you need help?" There was a pause, and then he said, "No." Looking back, it should've been, "I'm on my way. Hold the fort until I get there." But I felt because he said no, it would've shown a lack of trust in him if I had shown up.

ZIERLER: But if you just say, "I'm on my way," it excuses him from…

JUDD: Exactly. That was something I learned. In an emergency, you are the person on the ground. Don't put anybody in a position where they have to admit they need you. Just go. It's your job. You're responsible. That stayed with me.

ZIERLER: How long were you in that role for?

JUDD: I'd say three or four years.

ZIERLER: And then, what happens?

JUDD: Then, I went to a different oil field, and I was put in charge of environmental health and safety for that field. And they had also asked me if I could take what I had been doing at my current oil field, start helping this other one, but really start thinking about how to do that for the rest of Mobil.

PRINCE: Where was that field?

JUDD: It was near Taft. All these beautiful places. Maricopa. And South Midway. It was a South Midway field. I was doing that, but I was also working with quality management and trying to help everybody. I was working with Lee Luthy, another guy. He's amazing, amazing leader. But working with them to try and help people understand why leading indicators matter, why lagging indicators matter.

ZIERLER: What are leading and lagging indicators?

JUDD: Say you have a process. A lagging indicator would be, "This is how much oil you produced." After the fact, it's lagging. But a leading indicator would be, "How well is the steam penetrating the ground?" If you can show that, "This is not oil right away, but it will be oil down the line. If you can improve this by 10%, we predict that it will have this much." That's a leading indicator. That oil coming out of the ground is a lagging indicator.

ZIERLER: Did you leapfrog in the org chart? Was this the next obvious promotion for you?

JUDD: No, it wasn't because quality management was a new thing.

ZIERLER: New thing for Mobil?

JUDD: Yes.

ZIERLER: This is sort of a new regulatory era they're responding to?

JUDD: No, it was all about process control at that point, trying to understand and maximize processes. And the quality movement was very big at this time. After I did that job, they asked me to go to Dallas to be the Director of Training. Then, it was training all the fields for the United States. I did that for a while. And then, I ended up going to strategic planning, and at that time, I worked directly for the president. I wrote a bunch of his speeches, and I went to inclusion and diversity training so I could help with that.

ZIERLER: How long before you actually got to Texas? What was the timeframe?

JUDD: I would say my last four years were in Texas, so I would say my first eight years were in the field.

ZIERLER: You got to Dallas mid-90s?

JUDD: Yeah, 1996.

ZIERLER: What was your title when you got there?

JUDD: Director of Training.

ZIERLER: Director of all on-site training?

JUDD: Mm-hmm.

ZIERLER: How much travel did that require?

JUDD: A lot. Because I had fieldwork, and I had staff in Midland, Texas, I had them in Louisiana, New Orleans, I had them in Bakersfield. Oklahoma, I think.

ZIERLER: This is exclusively domestic.

JUDD: Yes, Mobil Exploration and Producing US. It had nothing to do with refining. At the time, there were 11 companies for Mobil, Lagos, Nigeria, all that. But I was Exploration and Producing US, getting the oil out of the ground. Once it hits the pipeline, that becomes Mobil Pipeline. Once it hits the refinery, there are all these different companies of Mobil.

ZIERLER: In this job, did you have interface with Mobil Research?

JUDD: Sure, but at a very superficial level. Because I'm not doing training for them. They all have PhDs.

ZIERLER: How did you get to know the president?

JUDD: When I was training everybody, I had to brief. "Here's where we're deficient. Here's where we're doing great. Here's how we've reduced incidents." And then, when I got moved to strategic planning, we had a lot more interaction. And then, when I was doing inclusion and diversity work, helping him write some speeches, then–yeah.

ZIERLER: Were the terms inclusion and diversity in use at an oil company in Texas in the 90s?

JUDD: Yes.

ZIERLER: That's amazing. You would think that would've been much more recent.

JUDD: No, Mobil was very good about this.

ZIERLER: Do you have any idea why, what the history is there?

JUDD: There must've been lawsuits. I don't know. [Laugh] I can't imagine them doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, but maybe.

ZIERLER: When you got involved in the inclusion and diversity work, did that sort of take you away from the operational side of things?

JUDD: Yes. Once I left training and went to strategic planning, helping develop what we would measure, how we would measure, what we needed to do, then Exxon was on the horizon. Then, I had a very large supporting role in the Exxon-Mobil merger from the US production side.

ZIERLER: How large did the Exxon Valdez oil spill loom in your mind?

JUDD: Huge, for me.

ZIERLER: Was that held up as, like, the disaster to avoid?

JUDD: Yes.

ZIERLER: From an outsider's perspective, what was the breakdown? What were the problems, as you saw it, that led to the disaster?

JUDD: I just never believed it was a focus of theirs at all. They clearly placed it on the captain. But for me, it was never important to them.

ZIERLER: There's a systemic breakdown.

JUDD: From my perspective, yeah. I wasn't at Exxon, but I talk to people.

ZIERLER: When the news started to circulate that Exxon might be taking over Mobil…

JUDD: I was like, "Oh, hell no."

ZIERLER: You're out. Did they try to retain you?

JUDD: Oh, yeah. Multiple times.

ZIERLER: Nothing worked.

JUDD: There was never any job they would've given me that I would've stayed for.

ZIERLER: You resigned before your mom sent you the JPL announcement?

JUDD: Yeah. At that time, Mobil had paid for my degree at SMU.

ZIERLER: What was the degree?

JUDD: Organizational development, how leaders lead, how teams work. It was called master's of liberal arts, but yeah.

ZIERLER: You did this part-time?

JUDD: At night.

ZIERLER: Completed the degree.

JUDD: Yes. It was hard. [Laugh] But it always is. I loved it because I was always a people person. I always wanted to understand how to help people. Even though I seem to get limelight that I get shoved into, it's not something I ever want. I'm happy to have Tom go out and work from behind the scenes. As long as the enterprise I'm interested in succeeds, I don't really care about anything else. In fact, as you know, I was very reticent to do this. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: This is a question that could be relevant today, so I'm curious about back then. What aspects in promoting diversity and inclusion were really substantive and geared toward making Mobil a better corporation, and what was PR and promoting an image because that's good for business, regardless what it means for the company?

JUDD: That's a hard question for me because I always believed the leadership was all in on it.

ZIERLER: This is amazing.

JUDD: I just always believed that different perspectives really, truly did make a difference in the quality of the decisions made, the quality of the discussions. I just always believed that.

ZIERLER: Do you see your promotion, your upward trajectory as a woman at Mobil as exemplifying those ideas?

JUDD: Sure. I cannot not recognize that that was part of the decision-making process. Yeah, I'd say so. But my philosophy has always been, "I don't care how you got the job. Crush it." A friend of mine was an Olympian gold medalist, and he called me and was like, "Michele, I just got accepted into the Stanford Business School for my MBA. I'm sure the only reason they want me is because I have an Olympic medal." And I'm like, "So? Who cares? Prove to them why they were right in picking you. Prove it to them. Just go." And he went, and he had an amazing experience. It was the best thing he could've done. But he was seriously not going to go because he thought being an Olympian was the only reason they accepted him.

ZIERLER: When Mobil couldn't retain you…

JUDD: It wasn't Mobil that couldn't retain me, it was Exxon.

ZIERLER: The merger had already happened?

JUDD: It was in the process of happening, and then I left.

ZIERLER: What was your role in promoting the merger or allowing it to happen?

JUDD: Part of my degree had to do with change management, but also, trying to help the US operations understand change management. We built what was called the MEPUS University, Mobil Exploration and Producing US University. It was how to lead others through change. I felt really good about that experience and helping people understand that. When I was coaching at JPL, when I was leaving, my contract was up before I got my job offer from Anne Taormina, I had been courted to do the Chevron merger because I'd already done the Mobil-Exxon merger. But as a consultant, would I consider going to do that? Because at the time, the executive coaching job was pretty much full-time, but I took vacation to do coaching for the Menlo Park Police Department on inclusion and diversity, what that means for a police department, but I also did City National Bank, trying to understand how their leader kind of was interacting with their team and not really understanding that it was a relationship. I did a lot of other consulting jobs, and I was just going to go back to consulting. But because I'd had this experience with Mobil was why I was being considered for the Texaco-Chevron merger.

ZIERLER: You leave ExxonMobil, and you start the consulting business.

JUDD: Mm-hmm. I flew back, bought a house, never saw it. I sent my mom out. "Mom, go pick a house near my sister." Bought the house, flew my brother out from San Francisco. I told him, "Go to the library, get lots of books on tape. It's a three-day drive. We'll just listen to books on tape." He shows up with one tape. It was The Odyssey. And I've read The Odyssey three times. I'm like, "I could kill you." But once you start listening to it, this lilt and the beauty of it, we showed up at the new house that I had never seen, we had 20 minutes left on the tape. We sat around the corner for 20 minutes until we finished, then we went in and saw my new house.

ZIERLER: Did you see the consultancy business as an opportunity to get back to California? Was that a bonus for you?

JUDD: Yes, absolutely. My sister just had kids, twins, and I wanted to be back for them.

ZIERLER: Being a high school student and being laser-focused on stability and what gets a job, to now starting your own business, obviously, you had gained confidence that untethered you from that limiting factor. What was the confidence that you had gained?

JUDD: I think it was just continuing success over time, knowing that people would call and ask me for advice, or would introduce me. I'm pretty good at networking when I need to be.

ZIERLER: How big was your rolodex at the time you started the consulting business?

JUDD: I wouldn't say it was huge, but it was big enough that I could get into a consulting stable of somebody else so that if they needed me, they could just call me and say, "Can you do this job for my consulting firm?" That's how I started kind of getting into being able to keep that. I knew I had that in the bag, so I could make money doing that. Because starting up takes a while. But I got money from Exxon, and I felt like, "I can go a year, start building my business." I felt pretty confident.

ZIERLER: What were some of the most interesting clients you had?

JUDD: Menlo Park was really interesting. When I started talking–it was really funny, I led an exercise that helped them understand what they thought people thought of policemen. They were talking about donut shops, wife beaters, going through this whole thing. And I'm like, "How does that make you feel when you are categorized?" And they were like, "But that's not us." I go, "Okay, let's talk about your perceptions of others. How do you think that makes them feel?" It was so interesting to see this sea change. Because if you put it in their perspective first about how they are people first, policemen second–it made me feel good that they got a lot out of it.

ZIERLER: This was a successful business you were building. It was on a very positive trajectory.

JUDD: Oh, yeah. I felt very good about it.

ZIERLER: Maybe now is a good narrative break. To set the stage for next time, when in this narrative does your mom send you the JPL announcement? How long does that take?

JUDD: I had just started my consulting business.

ZIERLER: So it was really in the back of your head from the beginning.

JUDD: I didn't know until maybe a month or two in.

ZIERLER: Was this your mom saying, "If the consulting thing doesn't work out, there's this opportunity to consider?" Or taking JPL on as a client?

JUDD: It was for them to be a client.

ZIERLER: JPL was a client of yours before you were an employee of JPL.

JUDD: Absolutely, for a year.

ZIERLER: Let's pick up on that point next time, when JPL becomes a client for you.

[End of Recording]

ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It is Tuesday, October 24, 2023. It's wonderful to be back with Michele Judd, with Professor Tom Prince sitting in the driver's seat. Thank you so much both.

JUDD: Yeah, I'm happy to be his sidekick at all times.

ZIERLER: Tom's the sidekick for this discussion. We're going to pick up, last time, we left off when you had launched your consultancy business, you're back in California. A month in, your mom sends you this opportunity in the newspaper to work as a consultant for JPL. What year is this?

JUDD: 2000.

ZIERLER: What did the job ad say? What was attractive to you about it?

JUDD: It was kind of upward feedback, work with executives and their teams, and we're going to do 360-degree feedback on the manager. You come in, and you help the manager understand their feedback, come up with an action plan. That's what it was.

ZIERLER: Were the Mars failures of '98, '99 in the background and informing this?

JUDD: Not really. Not for this, I believe. I think this is an ongoing program they do every once in a while. I'm sure it probably was very helpful, but I don't believe that it was the trigger for it.

ZIERLER: Did you feel this was in your wheelhouse?

JUDD: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I give a lot of feedback. [Laugh] It's absolutely in my wheelhouse.

ZIERLER: You come to Lab for an interview. Who do you talk with?

JUDD: It's HR. I think there were 226, 277 applicants.

ZIERLER: You get it. Administratively, where are you located?


ZIERLER: Are all of the consultants to JPL housed in HR?

JUDD: No, but leadership coaching is considered a human resources skill.

ZIERLER: What is the job? Do you get to define it? Do you get embedded within the Lab to see what the issues are? Or are you handed a specific project?

JUDD: I'm handed the project. Leaders can sign up for this. This was one of those things where I think there was maybe one leader who was told they had to have it, but it's generally for people who want to improve their leadership. You already have a group of people who are interested in improving. It wasn't an entire Lab-wide thing.

ZIERLER: The self-selected leaders who were interested in this may not have been the leaders most in need of it?

JUDD: Perhaps not. And in fact, I did have some leaders who did it merely to hear good things about themselves because they thought they were the shizzle. And they were good, but everybody has a couple of things they can do better.

ZIERLER: What's the interface? Is this one-to-one meetings with the leaders, and then you talk to their teams?

JUDD: It's describing the project, doing the 360, meeting with the leader, meeting with the team separately, then meeting together, then coming up with an action plan that both the leader and team agree to.

PRINCE: The 360, is that a set format?

JUDD: Yes. The 360-degree feedback, you get feedback from your manager, you get feedback from your peers, you get feedback from the people who report to you, and feedback from customers or whoever.

ZIERLER: You're recording conversations, taking notes? How are you capturing viewpoints?

JUDD: Just all by hand.

ZIERLER: Tom, are you around Lab at this point?

PRINCE: No, I became Chief Scientist in 2001. I was around the Lab, but I was beginning to work on the LISA project right about then.

ZIERLER: Would Caltech PIs have been eligible?

JUDD: No. This is just Lab.

ZIERLER: What are some themes you're hearing, some commonalities that are popping up?

JUDD: Well, it's interesting because there may have been themes, but it was very specific action planning. I think for the majority of people, they didn't really understand that leadership is a relationship. I think they thought, "I need to have vision, and I need to set a good example," whatever they thought in their mind leadership was. But they didn't really take into account that every group is different. The team needs to understand it's also a relationship, and that the leader is doing things sometimes because of how the team itself is reacting, their behavioral culture. I think culture is a hugely underappreciated part of leadership and setting the culture. And again, you think that the culture above you will also help set you as a leader and go down, but your immediate person that you report to is the culture that you live in.

ZIERLER: The 360 feedback, is everybody seeing everyone else's perspective? Is this anonymous?

JUDD: Well, you know who your manage is. [Laugh] Then, all the team is aggregated. All the other stuff is aggregated. They don't know who said what, they just see an overview of their feedback.

ZIERLER: What happens as a result? You present this, then what?

JUDD: I have a meeting with that person, a meeting with their team. We meet, come up with an action plan, and then everybody agrees to it.

ZIERLER: Are you there for implementation and monitoring?

JUDD: Then, we set up some follow-up meetings. I still have follow-up meetings. I just don't get paid for them. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: The follow-up meetings never stop.

JUDD: No, it's just that they really appreciate it, and they say, "Okay, I have this issue. What do you think?" [Laugh]

ZIERLER: Are you embracing your inner space geek in real time?

JUDD: Oh, yeah.

ZIERLER: This is not just purely HR, this could be anywhere. You are feeling JPL.

JUDD: Oh, yeah.

ZIERLER: What is that like for you?

JUDD: Oh my God, I was just on fire. I could not believe that I had this opportunity to be with these incredible people working on these dream projects. Rovers and spacecraft. It was like, "Oh my God."

ZIERLER: How much of JPL took over your entire consulting business?

JUDD: I would say 75%. Because then, I would just take vacation on days I was doing other consulting gigs.

ZIERLER: What other kinds of clients did you have?

JUDD: For instance, Menlo Park Police Department, I did diversity and inclusion coaching for them. Coaching for City National Bank, some of their executives there. It was just lots of different types of coaching on giving talks, public speaking, but mostly on how teams worked. That's what I love to work on.

PRINCE: This was an interesting time because this was somewhere in the boundary of the Ed Stone-Charles Elachi directorship. Also, as you mentioned, there were the failures and the aftermath of that. Then, the exploration rovers were coming online, which was a very interesting project. This was on the Ed Stone side of the boundary?

JUDD: Yes.

PRINCE: It was Ed Stone's executive council, at least partially, that would be volunteering.

JUDD: Yes, right.

PRINCE: How much of this did you think carried over to the new executive council that Charles Elachi formed?

JUDD: I don't know because at that time, I was coming to a year of the project, and I was about to leave. I know that they for sure continued the program later. But I don't know as far as checking in with ongoing action plants–we talked about having the manager above the person–which in some cases was Ed–kind of checking in, "Here's the action plan for the manager," check in with them every once in a while, see how they're doing.

ZIERLER: It's an irresistible contrast to ask you about working with cops and PhD aerospace engineers. What are the universalities? Regardless of background, regardless of politics and life views, where is it just team-building, HR, relationships?

JUDD: I think for me, it was perspective. For instance, with the Menlo Park Police Department, having them talk about how they thought other people viewed them versus how they viewed themselves and the relationship to racial profiling, and that we're all individuals, even if we are seen as a group. We don't have the exact same perspective or the exact same feeling of that entire group. That was very powerful for them. They had never done anything like that, and they were very open to it, which was very gratifying to me. At the end of the day, I don't know what ends up happening with them. They called and wanted to do a follow-up, but by then, I was working full-time for JPL and was not going to continue the consulting business.

ZIERLER: What about high pressure? Cops, JPL-ers, incredibly high-pressure jobs.

JUDD: It's all pressure. For these particular jobs, some are life-and-death. But you would talk to a scientist or an engineer, and that was life-or-death for their career, right? [Laugh] It's all super, super high-pressure.

ZIERLER: To piggyback on Tom's question, you emphasized culture, the culture of JPL. Ed Stone and Charles Elachi could not be more different.

JUDD: Oh my God, so different. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: Both extraordinarily great in their own ways, but so different in their leadership and interpersonal styles. Did you feel that? Is that something that permeated with the people you talked to?

JUDD: Yes.

ZIERLER: What with were some things that changed?

JUDD: Not with the people I talked to, but when I was there, it was mostly Ed. By the time I was wrapping stuff up, Charles had started, but it wasn't quite–we knew he was incredibly charismatic, but it hadn't gotten to the point where the CWI had started, which is "Charles wants it." [Laugh]

ZIERLER: When do you start thinking–or are you approached before you start thinking–that this might be a full-time career for you?

JUDD: I was leaving. The project was done, everybody had their action plans, we had had tag-ups and follow-throughs, talked to the managers of the managers. I'm signing off, and I'm going to go keep consulting. I had been working on taking a huge project elsewhere, then as I said last time, Anne Taormina was like, "I think you should work with us." [Laugh]

ZIERLER: Were you kind of hoping that somebody would whisper that to you?

JUDD: No, I didn't have any clue that that would happen.

ZIERLER: Okay. You get this nudge. Is there a job for you to apply to? Do they create one for you?

JUDD: They created it.

ZIERLER: What's the job?

JUDD: Development liaison.

ZIERLER: No such thing as this before.

JUDD: No. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: Development liaison. What are you development, what are you liaising with?

JUDD: I am working with software teams working on autonomous systems, which I know nothing about.

ZIERLER: This is technical now, this is just out of HR.

JUDD: Yes.

ZIERLER: This is just Operation Keep Michele with JPL.

JUDD: It's Operation I See That You Could Help My Teams. I Don't Know How Yet, But We're Going to Figure It Out Together.

ZIERLER: You're on Lab at this point. When do you meet first?

JUDD: August 2001.

PRINCE: I forget exactly when I became Chief Scientist, but it was right around there, 2001.

ZIERLER: This is pretty relevant. As Chief Scientist, are you supposed to be sensitized to the kind of 360 reports that you've created?

JUDD: I don't think he knew anything about them.

PRINCE: Nothing, yeah.

ZIERLER: Theoretically, this would be valuable to you to sort of inculcate yourself with the culture of JPL, what are people saying, what are the administrative challenges? But no, you don't know anything about this?

PRINCE: No. I was basically a professor from campus. Charles knew me because of a fight I was picking with Goddard and Goddard was picking with us on LISA. I was in his choices for Chief Scientist.

ZIERLER: What are the circumstances where you waste no time connecting? August 2001, you could have not interacted for years, but it came right away.

PRINCE: I don't know when we first interacted.

JUDD: We didn't connect until after I went to the Science Division, which was three years later.

ZIERLER: Your first appointment was not in science.

JUDD: It was in Autonomous Systems, in the Software Division.

ZIERLER: What did you do there?

JUDD: I was assigned to work with six different teams, but primarily two teams. All six, I was trying to help them bond as teams, work with their group supervisors. There were two teams I was actually embedded on, which were the QuakeSim project and OASIS. But all of them were very happy with–we kind of did an overview of autonomy for the lab, we were doing highlights on each one of the groups, so they were getting a lot of positive exposure, not only within JPL but also with the NASA people, and there were DOD-type autonomy projects as well. But really, kind of defining, "What is this group about? What do they do? Here are the key deliverables. Here's how they work."

ZIERLER: This is relevant to your HR expertise.

JUDD: Yes.

ZIERLER: What are you defining yourself to be in real time? Are you becoming sort of like a systems person?

JUDD: I just think it was more about having someone people could go talk to. I hate to say this, but it was kind of like a combination of Deanna Troi, who was the person to go talk to when there were problems, but you didn't want to talk to anybody else, and a little bit of the number-one, the person that the leadership team goes to to fix things. I feel like it was a lot about team-building, and focus, and helping the leads understand where their team could take them to, and it was also pretty much just getting a download of what people were feeling, how to build a whole section of multiple groups to feel like they were connected. And that section felt connected when I left and went to the Science Division. That section was tight.

ZIERLER: And by design, are you sort of like minister without portfolio, where you can float from one team to another?

JUDD: Yes, I went to all the teams. But there were two that really had some potential to move forward with NASA, and those are the ones I worked the most with.

ZIERLER: What's the reporting structure? You're hearing all of these things and systemizing it.

JUDD: Section manager and deputy section manager.

ZIERLER: What are the missions these teams are attached to?

JUDD: This is more foundational research in AI, machine learning, machine vision, quantum computing. It was very much the research arm.

ZIERLER: That could be attached to whatever the relevant mission is.

JUDD: In the future. But it was all about low TRL, technology readiness level, foundational research. This is where the Valley of Death comes in because you come up with the ideas, and trying to get them to push through so that a mission picks them up, that's the toughest thing you can possibly do.

ZIERLER: Are you drawing on your technical expertise from the oil and gas world? Is that relevant here at all?

JUDD: I think the systematic thinking of an engineer, yes. I don't know about software, but I was primarily focused on helping them define their mission, what they were trying to achieve, how this particular team worked. All the teams were very different. [Laugh] The quantum computing group was different again, and again, and again. They were way out there. But I still have lifelong friends from that group.

PRINCE: There's always this tension between the divisions and the directorates. How did you perceive that, and how was that perceived within the divisions at that time, which was this interesting boundary?

JUDD: This was less mission-related, so there was less directorate influence versus what I saw at the Science Division.

PRINCE: Certainly, what I perceived in the Science Division was, in some sense, feeling like they were second-class citizens a lot of times because they weren't part of the mission. Well, the missions have priority.

JUDD: Yeah, everybody felt that. Everybody who was in foundational research, if you weren't on a mission, you were kind of–yeah. I guess you could be here.

PRINCE: Or better yet, "What are you doing here? Why are you here?" [Laugh]

JUDD: [Laugh] Yeah.

ZIERLER: What sense did you get of the triangle of Caltech, NASA, and JPL in this organization? You're working in a highly technical area now, working closely with engineers. Where's Caltech, where's NASA?

JUDD: As we discussed the last time, JPL is a very arrogant organization, but they have reason to be arrogant. They are the absolute best systems engineers, bar none, at the time. I'm sure that some of that expertise has gone elsewhere as JPL people have left and taken it as well. But there has always been the thought, "Caltech, whatever. It's on my check. [Laugh] They're always putting some administrative thing on us we have to do. Whatever. And NASA, they just need to understand better what JPL does. [Laugh] We have to do this. I don't know why they don't get it."

ZIERLER: So if not for the money and the management, JPL would be just fine all by itself.

JUDD: I'm just telling you what the culture was.

ZIERLER: Has that changed over the years?

JUDD: A little bit. I would say there's more understanding of the Caltech connection. I will not comment on how JPL views NASA. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: I think you just did. [Laugh] Was there a particular project that ended that prompted your shift to the Science Division?

JUDD: No, I think what happened was that the deputy section manager became the deputy division manager for science and said, "Yeah, we need to do what happened there with the scientists."

PRINCE: Who was that?

JUDD: Andrea Donnellan.

ZIERLER: Does this mean that your previous position gets replicated? Or do you fix what you needed to fix and move on?

JUDD: They hired someone else, great person. But then, that whole division dissolved.

ZIERLER: They couldn't keep it together when you left? [Laugh]

JUDD: No, I was in a section. There was a division of all the software, and that division ended up completely dissolving and being reabsorbed by other divisions. I will say, I was super happy that people were fighting over the 367 groups. "No, you need to be in this division." "No, you need to be in this division." [Laugh] They were hot commodities, so I was happy with that.

ZIERLER: If you could provide a little org chart overview. The Science Division, what does that mean at JPL?

JUDD: There are many scientists at JPL. About 300 or so are in the Science Division. But there are radar scientists in 33, there are scientists throughout the entire Lab, but the largest single entity of scientists, by quite a bit, was the Science Division.

ZIERLER: Is that what makes the Science Division the Science division, the critical mass of scientists?

JUDD: Yes. Well, I've never really thought of it. I'd say yes.

PRINCE: Yeah, although I would say that in the other divisions, there were scientists, but they worked on more applied science, instrument science, those sorts of things.

JUDD: That's true.

PRINCE: Whereas the Science Division was the place where people did science with either planetary data, or astrophysics data, or whatever.

JUDD: Earth data.

ZIERLER: It's sort of the college of JPL?


JUDD: No, I wouldn't say that.

PRINCE: If there is an analogy on campus, it's more like Engineering and Applied Sciences versus Geology and Planetary Sciences and PMA. In some sense, those are science divisions within Caltech, whereas then there's an Engineering and Applied Science. It's the type of scientists more toward engineering in the other divisions, and the people who did science and not necessarily instrument development or whatever else in the Science Division.

ZIERLER: The Science Division got word of what you were doing, and they said, "We need you over here." Are you replicating the game plan? Is it what you were doing all over again? What are you tailoring anew?

JUDD: It was partially that. Again, I think we discussed this last time, making the scientists–and really, it was forcing them, they were not happy–do a website because we wanted to highlight–you think about websites today, it's like, "Well, duh." But in 2004? Oh my God. Trying to make sure they were findable by other people around the world so that JPL could be seen, that we have killer scientists, great, world-class ideas happen at JPL in science. Yes, we are missions. Yes, best engineers in the world. We've also got some really great science. It was a combination of that, it was working on the Science 101 lectures, it was working on the Research and Technology Development Poster session and trying to get the word out to the entire rest of the lab, "Here's the research and technology that we are doing. Come see it so that you can see what the future could be like for JPL if any of these technical or scientific ideas move forward."

It was highlighting the post-docs and the importance of early-career people that we need to nurture. Missions take 20 years to come to fruition. They take a long time, so we want to make sure these people are also highlighted and seen. We had a Science Advisory Groups, where we brought science issues, and that's probably one of the first things Tom and I worked on together. That and the R&TD poster session, the post-doc day. We worked on the Science Visiting Committee together. There were a number of different things. The recognition for scientists and technologists because we wanted to recognize the research arm of JPL with some receptions. We had a bunch of scientists who were foreign nationals, so working on the Foreign National Advisory Group to try and help them become more integrated into JPL. There were many, many onerous rules for the foreign nationals, and we worked very hard on that, had a lot of success there.

ZIERLER: I don't want to gloss over, so what was the actually connecting point for the two of you?

JUDD: It's hard, we'd have to go back because we worked on four or five things.

PRINCE: The Chief Scientist's office is kind of separate from the Science Division, although obviously, as Chief Scientist, I had a lot of interest in the Science Division and what it was doing. Also, just doing whatever to try to improve it. I got to know Michele, got to know that she was extremely effective. For instance, R&TD, the Research and Technology Development, was my invention as Chief Scientist. And that was a whole machinery that would have to be revved up. Michele had worked on parts of that. There was no formal connection, I would say.

JUDD: Yeah, I would absolutely say that. But I will say there was one moment, and I can't remember when. It was during one of the Science Advisory Groups, and sorry, Tom, that I can't remember what you said, but there was something about the way Tom said it, the way he led it, I was like, "I could work for that guy. That is someone that I would work for, that I would consider partnering with on something." Because I truly felt at that moment, it was a very tense discussion about something, and the way you handled it. He stays quiet for a long time. But when he talks, you should listen. [Laugh] Very fact-based. Me, I'm excited about everything, I'm very reactionary. Tom's like, "And here's what I think." And everybody just goes, "Oh, that's a really good point."

ZIERLER: Tom, did you have the same feeling but inverted? Did you say, "Michele's somebody I could work for one day"?

PRINCE: Certainly, but I think that it was not a single point in time. I would say it developed over time, having worked with her. Then, when the Keck Institute came along, I knew she would just be excellent for it. Also, I had the feeling that the Keck Institute would be great for her.

JUDD: I would never have left JPL if it hadn't been for this. I was thrilled, I was happy, I was valued, we were building, we were improving the culture in our division. A lot of people would talk to me. Again, I had this tiny, little closet of an office next to the division manager and the deputy division manager. People would come in after the division manager had left, and they would just sit in my office and talk for an hour, or tell me what was going on.

ZIERLER: You mentioned the website and the impetus to sort of get the word out. Was Earth science and sustainability part of that messaging in the way that this was important to Charles Elachi, it was important about JPL's unique capabilities of turning the satellites back toward Earth? Were people talking about sustainability circa 2003, 2004?

JUDD: I don't think so. I'm sure it was on the mind of some people. But it wasn't that I remember being some major thrust. It could've been, but of course, climate change and understanding the Earth was huge.

ZIERLER: This is Hurricane Katrina, this is An Inconvenient Truth. This is an inflection point.

JUDD: Yeah.

ZIERLER: Do both of you start looking for excuses to collaborate at this point?

JUDD: No, we were both so busy. It was like, "I am not looking for more work. [Laugh] And if we're working together, I just find that great things happen." But it wasn't that I was like, "Hey, Tom, I wish I could find a project to work with you on." I'm so damn busy that I can barely breathe.

PRINCE: Same with Chief Scientist. I'm dealing with ethics issues, a huge number of things.

ZIERLER: It's a firehose for both of you. I don't want to strain the metaphor here, but where are the convergent streams? Where are you connecting on all of your business?

JUDD: We're connecting on things that include the Science Division and the Office of the Chief Scientist. If any of those things were happening together, I somehow got assigned to work on them.

PRINCE: The perspective from my viewpoint is, I was worried about the Science Division. And not about the whole Science Division, but that there were a number of scientists who were just not happy at all. It was basically because, in my assessment, they had picked an area of science and weren't nimble enough to migrate into new areas of science where they could be happier at JPL. JPL had bypassed those areas of science. And so, that created a lot of tension with those people.

ZIERLER: Is this a limitation on the part of the scientists' nimbleness or the structure of JPL?

PRINCE: Yes, the scientists' nimbleness. They were true academics. "I am doing this type of research, and I'm very good at it. I'm a leader in my field. That's what I'm going to continue doing, but I'm not getting any support from JPL."

JUDD: And I have a little bit of a different perspective than that. I agree with you regarding that, but I think there was also, "I'm bringing in my own money to do my own thing like an academic, but I can't get lab space because it's not mission-related." Or, "I can't get resources that will support my ideas, and JPL's just too stupid to not understand that this is important science," whereas JPL is saying, and perhaps rightly so, "We need the type of science that will result in missions." [Laugh]

ZIERLER: In your respective positions, how are you both responsive to what sounds like a strategic challenge?

PRINCE: I'll elaborate. I saw three parts of the Science Division. One was the people who were sort of entrepreneurial, able to get things done within JPL because they went out and found the resources, they interfaced with missions, they were nimble, they jumped from this to that. That was a great group. And there's always tension between engineers and scientists. My view was, "Let's energize that group and get them well-known, get the contributions they're making known to the Laboratory." Then, there was the group that Michele just referred to, which was perhaps less involved with missions but developing the technology that was needed for missions in the future. And they weren't getting necessarily the resources they'd hoped for. That was what Research and Technology Development was all about. Then, there was this other group I spoke about a little bit before, which said, "I want to just keep doing my science, and I should be supported within JPL and NASA to do that science." And each group had different needs. That's the way I saw it within the Science Division. Empower the two groups, the entrepreneurs and people doing important science in instrument development for the next set of missions, then trying as best as possible to help the one group, the least happy group, integrate more with the Laboratory, get involved in things that would actually bring them satisfaction.

ZIERLER: Is Tom's plan registering with you? Are you part of the implementation team?

JUDD: [Laugh] No, I don't think so. I think Tom had his own view of the Science Division, the Science Division had their own view of themselves, and there was this overarching view that science was not appreciated at all. And that's what I was focused on.

PRINCE: What did the Science Division think of me at that time?

JUDD: They thought you were great.

PRINCE: Okay, good.

JUDD: They felt you were their champion.

PRINCE: That's one place where Charles and I had a difference, I thought that he did not pay enough attention to the divisions, that he was very mission-focused.

ZIERLER: Do you think being a radar guy, an engineer, that he was just sort of constitutionally focused in one area and not another?

PRINCE: I don't know. I was always surprised that he didn't take more interest in the divisions.

JUDD: And he was the division manager of the Science Division at one point, wasn't he?

PRINCE: Yeah. I really don't know why, but I have a feeling that something happened, maybe when he was division manager. You could almost tell that he really was much more focused on the mission directorates than on the divisions.

JUDD: Many people in the Science Division were in charge of their own funding. It was not like missions. "You're an engineer. You get hired to do the avionics, you get hired to do thermal, you're materials science," whatever it is. But I will say that people in the Science Division resented the fact that, "Why do I have to pay for a manager? It's siphoned off the top. Why do I have to pay for a manager when they don't manage me? I get my own money." They are very much, "I'm in charge of myself. Just stay out of the way, I will manage it." Same thing with support and administrative staff. They're like, "We're getting double-tapped on every single thing because we're bringing money in." It was trying to manage all that and trying to create this culture of, "Science is important. We should be valued."

ZIERLER: You've articulated the challenge, but what's your solution to this? What is your role in making this all better?

JUDD: We talked about the five projects that we had been working on together. Tom, didn't you start the SRS Council?

PRINCE: Yeah, Senior Research Scientists.

JUDD: And didn't you start the fellows?

PRINCE: Yeah, Mous [Moustafa] Chahine, the previous chief scientist, had already had a post-doc program. I tried to not just keep it going, but actually enlarge it.

JUDD: No, I'm talking about fellows.

PRINCE: Oh, yeah, I did the fellows. These are the very senior fellows.

JUDD: It was like, "I, as an individual contributor, for the very first time, can have input at the very highest levels, either as a senior research scientist on the council," the new council Tom had created, "or the fellow," which is the very top echelon of the individual contributor range that could possibly be seen. Whereas you could make the same money as a manager, but because of your ginormous brain. I think that's huge.

PRINCE: Actually, I don't think that I did that. I think it already existed.

JUDD: Okay, but it seriously got amplified while you were there. Even with the SRS Council.

PRINCE: Yeah, that was something I definitely did.

ZIERLER: Are you taking on additional responsibility and leadership? Is your trajectory administratively, from Science Division until the origins of Keck, more or less the same role? Or are you getting promoted?

JUDD: All I cared about was making sure that the right thing happened. I'm behind the scenes. I just want it to work. I don't care who gets credit for what. I just want to have it happen. And the division managers, Tom, everybody knew my contributions. But I really just wanted the right thing to happen, and I just didn't care how it happened. [Laugh]

PRINCE: I'll give you one perspective here. I think what Michele said is absolutely right. What I said to myself was, "Why isn't JPL taking advantage of her?" Not in a bad sense, but all her capabilities.

ZIERLER: You saw Michele as underutilized.

PRINCE: Yeah, definitely. That's partially why I approached her. Because I thought she was underutilized. She should've been operating at a much higher level. Once she stepped back from JPL and became Keck Institute director, then the director's office tried to hire her back how many times? [Laugh] That's the level she should have been at. And I saw she wasn't there.

JUDD: But I was very happy. I loved scientists, I loved connecting them with technologists. I loved working on the culture and seeing them be successful. And I would never have left. This is probably the only thing I could've even–I couldn't have even imagined this. [Laugh]

PRINCE: The scientists at JPL had a lot of challenges. First of all, they're not civil servants.

ZIERLER: They're Caltech employees, in fact.

PRINCE: Right, and they're soft money. Whereas a Goddard person is a civil servant. Big difference. Second, because JPL is a NASA FFRDC, NSF won't support them, even though they're doing work NSF would–in fact, I nibbled at that a bit. I got it so that JPL-ers could be supported by NSF as long as they weren't PIs. There was a PI from a non-FFRDC. JPL-ers, though, could get support for their work.

ZIERLER: Would it have to be for non-NASA, non-space research?

PRINCE: What's the dividing line? NSF supports Earth sciences, NASA supports Earth sciences. It couldn't be NASA in big capital letters work, but it could be work that NSF would normally support. They could now get funded as collaborators, co-PIs on an NSF grant. That's one thing I was able to get done. And I didn't do it, but I found the right people who were passionate about that, and they took care of it.

ZIERLER: I think now, we can go into the earliest conversations that lead to KISS.

JUDD: I just want to make one comment because I've been thinking a lot about this. I truly believe that Tom being able to connect with people in NASA, in NSF, in the Office of Science and Technology policy, in OMB, in the very highest echelon of places–and there aren't many people like that. They will call him for a question, and he can just gently ask about something. I think that helped JPL, I think that definitely helped KISS. I just think that was a huge benefit to both of those institutes. It's just having that ability to do it in a way that is accepted by a lot of people. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: As backdrop, Spitzer, IPAC, IRAS, is that a model that you're working off of in terms of conceptualizing administratively what KISS might look like?


ZIERLER: What's not relevant there?

PRINCE: Certainly, I was very aware of Spitzer, IPAC, all that. But it wasn't a model. IPAC has scientists that are part of institution. In fact, that's how it's based. It has computing facilities, it has all kinds of things that it does. Keck Institute, from the ground up, was the opposite of that. It was to enable groups to do that sort of work. But it wouldn't have resident scientists, it wouldn't have computing facilities itself. It would be an enabling institution rather than a doing institution.

JUDD: That's exactly how I would put it.

ZIERLER: Is Michele part of the equation, the first germination of a thought of what KISS ultimately would be?

PRINCE: I don't know. My memory isn't that good. It may very well be that I always had in mind, once things were developing, that I would go to Michele and ask her if she wanted to be interested in this. I could easily imagine that. But the thing was, we had to get the basic idea formulated, get the acceptance that campus wanted to do this, that JPL wanted to do this, and all that rigamarole of proposals and everything else.

ZIERLER: This is where you enter, when Tom asks you to take a look at the proposal.

JUDD: Yeah. "Sure, I'll take a look at it." I never even imagined any role whatsoever.

ZIERLER: But as we discussed last time, you immediately saw this needed more firepower, more people power.

JUDD: Well, that was my opinion.

ZIERLER: You took that and said, "Well, you can be the person to make that happen."

PRINCE: Why did I think of a half-time person? Well, I thought, knowing JPL, that we absolutely needed someone from JPL to be part of the Keck Institute.

ZIERLER: Somebody with JPL background or somebody that sat at JPL?

PRINCE: No, somebody at JPL that understood the JPL culture. Because in some sense, I knew the campus culture needed somebody from JPL that really understood the JPL culture. That was almost an essential for me. But then, I didn't think anybody from JPL would want to maintain half-time at JPL and be half-time at the Keck Institute. I never imagined Michele would say, "Okay, I'm willing to make the jump all the way over to campus and be totally campus support."

JUDD: That's because the other people that applied were not like me at all.

PRINCE: Yeah. They were scientists.

JUDD: They were scientists that would want to keep their own research program, that would welcome a 50% job. It's a two-person job. At the time of starting up, there's no way.

ZIERLER: To clarify, is this a proposal to secure the Institute? Or have you secured the funding to launch it, but the proposal is for what the vision of the Institute is?

PRINCE: When I sat down with Michele, the Keck Foundation had approved the proposal.

JUDD: And he gave me the proposal that they submitted.

ZIERLER: This was happening. The question was, what will it look like?

PRINCE: Yes, and who's going to implement it?

ZIERLER: Michele says, "This is a two-person job." Tom says, "Great, will you be the two people?" Is that how it happened?

JUDD: I just said, "There's just no way it could be 50%."

PRINCE: My major job as Director was to keep Michele from killing herself by trying to be two people.

JUDD: It was really close. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: Did you have the funding to pivot to a full-time position?

PRINCE: Yes. There were some adjustments, but the Institute itself was an open receptacle waiting to be filled. In fact, many things in the proposal, we eventually did differently.

ZIERLER: What is the buy-in from Caltech to have this on campus? Who needs to authorize this?

PRINCE: David Baltimore was the one who triggered it.

ZIERLER: This obviously is happening before 2006, when he ended his presidency.

JUDD: Yeah, happened at the MER landing. That was the spark. The MER landing was the spark.

ZIERLER: Why was that the spark?

JUDD: Because there's nothing like this at Caltech. It is a worldwide event. You've got governors, you've got celebrities, you've got congressmen, you've got the mayor. You are landing on another planet. There's just nothing like this at Caltech. And as I understand it, and Tom can comment, David Baltimore was like, "Why are we not doing more things with JPL? Why are we not strengthening this? We could make hay with this." I'll just leave it at that.

PRINCE: David, then, said, "Let's put together a joint JPL-faculty committee to brainstorm how we can bring campus and the Lab closer together." Charles was very amenable to that as well. Charles always, as much as possible, and I did, too, always tried to use the language, "Campus and JPL." Whereas JPL always said, "Caltech." Caltech was down there.

JUDD: Yeah, "We're not part of that."

PRINCE: But Charles was very much in favor of this, too.

ZIERLER: When did the Keck people become part of the conversation? Right at the beginning? Were you looking widely for potential funders?

PRINCE: I would have to look at that. Probably, I didn't have complete visibility of that. But right around the time the JPL-faculty committee gave their recommendations, as far as I know, everything was Keck after that. My guess is that the campus said, "Okay, it's getting to be time to make a major ask of the Keck Foundation. Here it is. We're going to really focus on this as a major ask."

JUDD: Was Ed Stone on the board at that time?

PRINCE: Yeah, he was.

ZIERLER: Where's the transition to Jean-Lou Chameau in all of this?

PRINCE: Jean-Lou was very favorable to this, but he was a new president.

ZIERLER: Was KISS already launched at that point?

PRINCE: The Keck part of it was already launched. In other words, it was understood that the Keck Foundation would be the organization that we would ask to fund the center. I could easily believe David Baltimore already got that ball rolling, but I don't know that for sure.

ZIERLER: What about securing real estate on campus? What were those conversations like?

PRINCE: We put in a preliminary proposal for the Keck Institute. I don't think you oversaw that.


PRINCE: It was short, and they said yes. "Please bring us a full proposal." That was a good signal from the Keck Foundation that they were very interested in this. Then, and I don't know the exact sequence, but sometime during the development of the full proposal was when we started looking for where the Keck Institute might be. But there was no conclusion to that. We were itinerant for the first couple years.

ZIERLER: But it was obvious that it was going to be on campus and not at JPL.

JUDD: Absolutely. It wasn't even a question.

PRINCE: Yeah, and for many reasons. One is, if for nothing else…

ZIERLER: If David Baltimore wants to make hay of this, it doesn't make any sense for it to be at JPL. It has to be at Caltech.

JUDD: But also, you can't get people onto Lab.

PRINCE: There are a whole bunch of things.

ZIERLER: Every time I go on Lab, I feel like an alien. My Caltech badge doesn't mean anything.

PRINCE: Another thing, let's say you wanted to put it at JPL. NASA would immediately come down on it and say, "JPL, you're doing things that directly benefit Caltech." And that is not allowed. You cannot be showing favoritism and having some of your resources funneling down to campus. It just couldn't happen. In fact, one of the things we had to be careful of in our formulation of the proposal was that JPL was not, even with campus being the center, going to be able to funnel resources down to campus.

ZIERLER: Besides the obvious lack of HR in the proposal, what struck you about the mission, the policy, the science?

JUDD: I loved the vision.

ZIERLER: What was the vision?

JUDD: It was about having a think-and-do tank that could request challenges from JPL and campus–at the time, it was more JPL-campus-focused–that could bring the strength of campus, the strength of JPL together to capitalize on the opportunities to think of new, out-there ideas with regard to space exploration. And that it was interdisciplinary in nature, it was extended interaction periods that may have been split by a week here, do some work, come back for another week, or two days, or three days, and have these studies that would put forth ideas. That's the think part, the study program. The do part, to get us past this Valley of Death, was come up with ideas from the study, propose them back to the Institute to fund to try and just get it to the point that NASA, NSF, whomever–because Caltech could get NSF money, campus could–so that JPL, campus could get ideas past that Valley of Death so that they were less risk-averse to the funding agencies.

ZIERLER: Was there a latent frustration between Caltech professors and JPL-ers who wanted to do this kind of thing, but there was no administrative infrastructure to make it happen? In other words, was KISS designed to answer an extant need that was out there? Or did it say, "Here's a solution, and we're confident that people are going to become activated because it's here"?

PRINCE: Almost the latter.

ZIERLER: What's missing from what I suggested?

PRINCE: Yours were confident. [Laugh]

JUDD: I would say it's just like KISS, very high potential, very high risk. [Laugh]

PRINCE: It was an experiment.

ZIERLER: I don't know if this is relevant or not, but SPHEREx. We have Jamie Bock on campus, we have Michael Werner at JPL. Many more people, but let's just use the two of them, as a JPL-er and a Caltech professor. In however SPHEREx came together, would KISS have been relevant in going from, as Michele was saying, the think part to the do part? Would that be the kind of mission for which KISS was designed to encourage?

PRINCE: No. SPHEREx would be the classic campus-JPL project.

ZIERLER: Meaning this is something ongoing that wouldn't need something like KISS to start.

PRINCE: Yeah. Or both campus and JPL knew exactly what they wanted to do and were going to go ahead and do it. IRAS was that way. Spitzer was that way. NuSTAR was that way. GALEX was that way. Some of the missions, then, had a standard way of doing this. This was very different. If you want to use the language low-TRL–

JUDD: Ideation.

PRINCE: –generation of the ideas, which may grow into eventually those relationships that build a mission together. And it happened. But at this point, SPHEREx, no, that was much more of a classical way of campus and JPL interacting.

JUDD: I'm going to build on that. If you knew what you wanted to do and how to do it, KISS is not the place for you.

ZIERLER: So this is wacky idea, no idea what to do with it, want to talk to interesting people, want to see where this goes, KISS will provide everything.

PRINCE: Yeah, or even not wacky ideas, really good ideas that don't have another venue to get them energized, to actually bring them to the point that they could then be proposed to NASA or NSF.

ZIERLER: Is KISS self-sustaining from Keck's initial gift?


ZIERLER: What does it do? What does the first check allow to happen, and where does future funding need to come in after that?

PRINCE: First of all, the Keck Foundation had the same philosophy, in some sense, as the Keck Institute, and that is, you invest to get something started, but you don't endow things to go forever. It gets things launched, but you want to put them in a position so that they're self-sustaining. The Keck grant was for $24 million over eight years. Part of that was for a building.

ZIERLER: Is that a new construction or a renovation?

JUDD: No, brand new.

ZIERLER: Was something there?

JUDD: Well, there was the garage where Oppenheimer slept for months. And it was torn down within days of it turning 50 so that it did not become a heritage site.

PRINCE: Did we ever go over that?

ZIERLER: I don't think so.

JUDD: Oh my God. Oh, people were pissed. [Laugh]

PRINCE: The project manager from campus who was managing the overall construction, she found out that this was going to become possibly–people were starting to push for it to become a historical site.

JUDD: For just this run-down POS.

ZIERLER: But because Oppenheimer hung out there…

JUDD: Right. It's just a small garage.

PRINCE: For many, many years after the garage was torn down, StreetView still had the garage. And I probably have a picture of that. But in any case, the project manager found out about this and literally, I think within less than three days, the garage was gone.

ZIERLER: And Tolman-Bacher was conceptualized to be part of KISS from the beginning? Are you claiming this as your own?

JUDD: [Laugh] Way down the line.

PRINCE: There was the itinerant Keck Institute.

ZIERLER: What is Tolman-Bacher at this point? Was it always Tolman-Bacher?

JUDD: It was always called Tolman-Bacher.

PRINCE: Yeah, but biology had it.

JUDD: It was a house for VIP guests. Like, Pat Beckman would stay here. It was a house.

ZIERLER: It was a house. Sure, it was a house. Right.

JUDD: That was the kitchen. The asteroid belt was the kitchen.

PRINCE: Certainly, when we got it, though, it had not been taken care of.

JUDD: There had been a blue tarp on the roof–and I'm exaggerating–for 10 years. [Laugh]

PRINCE: Yeah. By the way, there's a whole history of the early years of the Keck Institute where we weren't here.

ZIERLER: Where were you?

JUDD: Oh my God. Let's see. We were in Downs Laboratory. We were on one level, then we were moved to a different level. Then, we moved to Millikan, then Keith Spalding, then here. This was the fifth move in five years.

PRINCE: We were moving just but every year.

ZIERLER: Who was there in the early years?

PRINCE: Janet came in before…

JUDD: No, December 2013, Janet came. We were five years in. It started off with me. Actually, it probably started with Tama…

ZIERLER: And your title is Executive Director from the beginning?

JUDD: No, it was Managing Director. The job ad was for an executive director. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: You couldn't get that approved?

JUDD: Nope.

PRINCE: Yeah, HR–job titles are–you have to work at them.

ZIERLER: Did you have director in your title at JPL?


ZIERLER: You were saying Michele was underutilized. You wanted this to be very clearly not a lateral move.

JUDD: No, this was an executive director position from the proposal. But I didn't have a PhD.

ZIERLER: Pay bump as well?

JUDD: Yes.

ZIERLER: How many other staff members?

JUDD: There were none. Actually, I have to go back because Patama Taweesup was probably the first one involved because she was the grants administrator that Engineering and Applied Sciences brought the money in to a bucket. She wasn't paid by KISS at all, but she was the first one brought into the bucket. But I was the first one paid by KISS, and then it had to be Minerva Calderon because she was computer support for the website. Then, the first admin was Paula. But it was me for a while by myself.

ZIERLER: Was the $24 million not usable for a building? How are you itinerant for five years, and you have $24 million? How come you're not breaking ground on day two?

PRINCE: There was always a part of the budget that was off-limits to the Keck Institute itself, which was to build a new building.

JUDD: Mmm, it was to renovate a building. Because it was to renovate Firestone.

PRINCE: Either build or renovate, yeah. Michele's absolutely correct.

ZIERLER: When you say off-limits…

PRINCE: In other words, that wasn't something we could actually just decide to do. We don't own any real estate on campus. Pretty much, we had to work with the provost.

ZIERLER: And this was Ed Stolper at this time?


ZIERLER: Was Ed sympathetic to finding new space, breaking new ground, renovating?

JUDD: [Laugh]

PRINCE: [Laugh] You see us laughing.

ZIERLER: The answer is no.

PRINCE: The answer is yes, but if you know Ed, Ed had his own ideas.

ZIERLER: What were they?

PRINCE: Well, they changed. [Laugh]

JUDD: When I was first brought on, it was always, as I understood it, targeted to redo Firestone and have two floors of Firestone be the Keck Institute.

ZIERLER: And this would relocate EAS faculty? Or what were those two floors? Labs?

PRINCE: Yeah, mostly faculty offices.

JUDD: They were faculty offices, there was a lecture hall, which would've worked for our plenary stuff. But that was the original intent as written, to renovate Firestone.

PRINCE: Would it be useful for you to have the original proposal?

ZIERLER: Of course.

PRINCE: I'll send the original proposal.

ZIERLER: That would be great. Let's just go to the daily grind now. You're here. What's the game plan? What do you need to do?

JUDD: First, I don't have an office anywhere. [Laugh] I end up going to Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the communications group, led by Marionne Epalle, who's now the Division Operating Officer for EAS, was like, "Well, stay with us until they get you an office." I hung out there for a little bit, we got Downs to start. Because Firestone was full of people. Downs was largely–I won't say abandoned.

ZIERLER: Cahill was not built yet, right?

JUDD: Not yet built. But we were given a floor in Downs. We just did the best we could. When we had our first studies, we were borrowing space from all of the divisions. Because really, it was just me in the basement, and we were just trying to start up the Institute. Whichever division was having the first study, we would try to work with the space they provided for us.

PRINCE: This is my own perspective, that although the administration at the high level, Jean-Lou Chameau, Ed Stone, were interested in making this work.

ZIERLER: What is Ed Stone's position at this point?

PRINCE: He's on the board of the Keck Foundation and very influential in the Keck Foundation. And then, also, the trustee, Kent Kresa, was also very influential.

JUDD: And wasn't Ed the VP of Special Projects or something?

PRINCE: He might've been by that time. In any case, Ed was very influential on the board of the Keck Foundation. Kent Kresa, too, who was always an advocate. Jean-Lou Chameau inherited the advocacy from David Baltimore. Those three, plus myself, went to Robert Day's office to close the deal.

ZIERLER: Who's Robert Day?

PRINCE: He's the head of the Keck Foundation. He's part of the Keck Family.

ZIERLER: Close the deal meaning this is where he writes the check for $24 million?

PRINCE: I'll tell that story. We go there.

ZIERLER: Where are the offices? In LA?

PRINCE: Top floor of one of the big towers in LA. We go there, I'm the one who actually presents. Ed, Jean-Lou Chameau, and Kent Kresa are there. I give the presentation. Robert Day is a person I found hard to read. I give the presentation, can't really tell much about what he thought.

ZIERLER: Is he involved in science philanthropy at all?

PRINCE: He's head of the Keck Foundation.

ZIERLER: But with science specifically.

PRINCE: He's not a scientist, but the Keck Foundation certainly funds a lot of science, Sesame Street, lots of things. He's a very intelligent fellow. We're done there, then we're in some kind of outer office. But then, Robert Day says, "Oh, come on in." And we go to the back office, and he shows us a model of a ship he was very proud of, a few other things, and then we leave. Then, I said to Ed, "How do you think that went?" He said, "When we got back into the inner office, we knew we had closed the deal." [Laugh] That was the signal. But I couldn't read that at all. No way of me reading that.

JUDD: But how the funding works is, you don't get a check for $24 million, you get a check for $3 million each of eight years.

ZIERLER: With the vow that it's renewable annually.

JUDD: Pretty much, the first three years were assured, unless we had done something so egregious that they would have to reconsider. But the first decision point was three years in. The first program would've been through the study phase and two years of the do phase. That would be a point to check in and see how we were doing. It's an experiment. But if it had failed, that was the first real, "Thank you all for coming," pull the plug.

PRINCE: Fast forward three years, and I gave a presentation to the board. Kent Kresa was there, Ed Stone was there, Ed Stolper was there. It was a very short presentation. Ed Stolper, who's usually very critical, said afterwards, "That was absolutely perfect." That sealed the deal for the rest of the time. But going back, here's the top level of Caltech, and they're favorable to this. At the division level, no, not necessarily.

ZIERLER: Territorial issues?

PRINCE: "What is this all about? Caltech funds projects to do things." And here we are, an enabling institution, something totally foreign.

JUDD: It even was at the point where faculty, division chairs were saying, "Just give us the money. We've got great ideas. We don't need anything else. This money should be coming to us, not some foofy institute that is going to bring people together and kumbaya. And the money just gets to whoever."

PRINCE: Let's fast forward something like three or four years, where Ed Stolper is now evaluating whether this is a good thing for Caltech, for campus.

JUDD: And it may or may not have been before the board meeting. I don't remember where it was.

PRINCE: But he gathered the faculty together. This is now three or four years in.

JUDD: It might've actually been after that.

PRINCE: It could've been. We were not invited. He wanted to have a discussion on how the faculty saw it. One of my good friends, a faculty member here, later said, "I've never seen a faculty meeting like that. Not one person had a negative thing to say about the Keck Institute. Every single one was positive. That doesn't happen with Caltech faculty."

JUDD: It could've been longer, it might've been five. Because it might've been at the point where they were deciding whether they needed to do a big fundraising even to the keep us going.

ZIERLER: Irrespective of Keck after three years? Or this was part of it?

JUDD: I don't know when it actually happened, but it was after a good amount of faculty had been through KISS. And we were shocked and happy. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: Really, the big story here is that for the first few years, it's like, "This either will work, or it will not."

JUDD: We were worried.

PRINCE: There were definitely headwinds in the divisions. Not every division. But Engineering and Applied Sciences was good.

ZIERLER: It's obvious why PMA and EAS would have strong opinions about KISS one way or the other, but this is sounding like people have strong opinions all over campus about this. S

PRINCE: It was centered in GPS.

ZIERLER: The planetary science side of GPS. What were the concerns? What were they saying?

PRINCE: I think formally, they said, "What are we doing here? We should be using money to do things, not some kind of organization that would actually bring people together to talk about doing things."

ZIERLER: Is that a messaging issue? Because you explained very clearly, it's think and do. The do is right there.

JUDD: Yeah, but, "What do we need JPL for? Just give us the money. We've got great ideas. Don't waste it."

ZIERLER: What's the counter? In terms of a division of labor, both of you need to be responsive to this.

JUDD: Let me just say, we were together, and at one point, in GPS in a meeting, Tom had to physically put his hand on my leg to keep me from coming up over the desk.

PRINCE: This was not improper or anything. [Laugh]

JUDD: No, I didn't even think of that. This was just a restraining, "Please let me help you keep your job," type of thing. [Laugh]

PRINCE: It was tough going. By the way, a little bit of background here, Geology and Planetary Science has always been a division centered around the research of each individual group. That's what they support. Our organization comes in, and it's nothing like that, totally foreign. I think that's why GPS didn't like it.

ZIERLER: A complicating factor on top of everything else is that you have these grandiose ideas, you're facing these headwinds, but you're also sort of a traveling road show on campus. You don't yet have the gravitas of a building to say, "Here's now what we will accomplish." That must've made things even more difficult.

PRINCE: Right. When did we move into the library?

JUDD: I don't know, I have to look back.

PRINCE: On our itinerant road trip, we did eventually get the–

JUDD: Sixth floor.

PRINCE: –the sixth floor in the library. Why don't you describe it?

JUDD: For me, that was a moment where I felt like we had a home. I never felt like either of the Downs floors was home to us. I just felt like, "We're migrating. We're migrating. We've got to find a home." But the feeling of the sixth floor, with all of these office spaces that had windows, a cramped central area, and a lounge area on the other side–we could fit 30 people in. [Laugh] We forced 30 people in for our plenary sessions. But that was at the point that I, and I believe Tom, started thinking, "This is a model that we could use. If we can stay here, we could make this work." I never felt that about Downs. But I felt, "Ooh, if we could get this space, we can be KISS forever right here."

PRINCE: Yeah, that's the first place the division clicked because we had the physical space to make it work.

ZIERLER: Was that attractive because you would not have to divert huge amounts of funds to a building?

JUDD: It was helpful, but that really wasn't the key. The key was, we had office spaces that people used. We put three people in each room, and we actually spent a lot of time thinking, "Which three people should we put in each room? What are we trying to accomplish with forcing these people into shared office space?" That was part of it. Then, we didn't have to borrow from any other division. We actually had space for our 30 people to be right next door to the plenary sessions. It was where things just started to gel. Things started happening, I would say. And that's when we started understanding the importance of the environment. Because you'd look out from the sixth floor, and you'd see these amazing mountains. And you felt inspired being up there. You felt, "Wow, this is a special place to be." You never felt like you were in a special place in Downs. But this was a special place to be, and you were lucky to be there. The environment that we created there, I felt, we covered every single bit of white space with paper so that you could just write your ideas any time that you had ideas. We just had white paper everywhere. We did poster sessions along the way, so then we knew that was something we wanted to do as well.

PRINCE: Over this time, our idea of what the Keck Institute could be was evolving.

ZIERLER: Are you back from JPL by this time?


ZIERLER: How fully invested are you in the building mode of KISS during your day-to-day as a Caltech professor? Are you checking in with Michele because she's doing all of this, and you're providing oversight? Or is this really a daily partnership for you?

PRINCE: I would say daily. In the formative times, yeah.

JUDD: We were, I'd say, joined at the hip for the first two years.

PRINCE: Probably, I was trying to get my research going again on campus, but the Keck Institute was at least half time. In this time, we're developing new ideas and so forth. Also, even before this, it was interesting in that I went around to various places to see what other people had done that might've been a model for the Keck Institute. There was the JASONs, which was one model, but also the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics. One thing that stuck with me is that I talked to people about the beginnings of the Kavli Institute, and they started to wistfully think about the times where, instead of the current Kavli Institute, they were all on a single floor of one building. They sort of looked back on that wistfully and said, "That was so nice because we were all kind of together." And it was interesting because we almost duplicated that.

JUDD: In Millikan.

PRINCE: Yeah. We were all on one floor, and everything just gelled.

JUDD: And people were going from room to room, and people could hear what was going on in the separate office spaces. And somebody would pop in and say, "Sorry, I couldn't help but overhearing. You may want to think about X, Y, Z." And then, the whiteboards were up, and the pens were coming out. It was like, "Okay, this is what we want."

PRINCE: By the way, that's very JASON-like because they have two to three people per office in one long hallway. Everybody just pops in and out. It was finally a location where we could actually carry out what we wanted.

ZIERLER: I want to capture the formative years before going up to the sixth floor of the Millikan Library. You used the metaphor joined at the hip. What was the day-to-day like in building mode? What was consuming your time?

JUDD: Having done my own business, I knew the importance of startup. And we had to get the word out. We had to make sure people knew we were around. Starting up the website, getting things going with that. We already knew the three initial programs, they were fed into the process.

ZIERLER: What were they?

JUDD: The programs were Sergio Pellegrino's large detectors, the Mars geochronology one, and then Tony Readhead's study.

ZIERLER: And you're getting the word out, "Bring your ideas to us"? These are the three winners?

JUDD: In the proposal itself, these three were already pre-awarded.

ZIERLER: In the original proposal?


JUDD: They started off saying, "The faculty and JPL have put forth some ideas. Here are the three we're going to start with. But here's a whole list of other ones."

ZIERLER: Did the faculty and JPL-ers put forward these ideas thinking that ultimately, there would be a KISS to support it?


JUDD: Yes.

ZIERLER: Does this predate even you?

PRINCE: No. This was during the process that I led to put the large proposal together. We thought, "We should have some real examples of the type of studies that we would undertake with the Keck Institute."

ZIERLER: This is an important detail. There's an idea to have this Caltech-JPL partnership. Then, obviously, you need to be amenable to some ideas that you can use to show Keck, "Here's the kind of thing we can accomplish with this." And this is before you, Michele.

JUDD: Yeah. In fact, just to go back, Tom, when you inherited it from Andy…

ZIERLER: Who's Andy?

JUDD: Andy Ingersoll was the chair of the original thing.

PRINCE: The faculty-JPL committee.

JUDD: Right, that Baltimore had commissioned. They came up with the idea. Tom, you were on that committee, though, right?

PRINCE: I was on that committee.

ZIERLER: Already in a leadership role?

PRINCE: No, Andy Ingersoll was the chair, but I had just been Chief Scientist at JPL, so I had sort of a fulcrum position, knowing both sides.

JUDD: Then, at that point they were like, "Okay, we're at the point where this is a go. A full proposal must now be written. Based on these ideas and this think tank, we need to write a full proposal." Is that correct, Tom?

PRINCE: Yeah, but there was an intermediate proposal in there. And I'll send you that, too, if I can find it.

JUDD: I've never seen that one.

ZIERLER: Was Sergio's proposal at all related to the Solar Space Project?

JUDD: I think it was Large Space Structures, now that I think about it.

PRINCE: It was Large Space Structures. He was into large space structures, but not necessarily solar power yet.

ZIERLER: To go back to the day-to-day question and building mode, you had these three projects as an anchor point.

JUDD: Right. I come in in August 2008, and we are ramping up to do those three studies. We are also working on the website, trying to get that out. We have to have a call in October for the next year, so we have to develop the call.

ZIERLER: You barely got this year started, now you have to go about next year.

JUDD: We didn't even get it started. We just had to get the next year started already.

ZIERLER: The macroeconomic backdrop here is the financial crisis of '08, '09. Does this register? Are the checks already written, so you're safe?

JUDD: Yeah, this is no concern to us.

PRINCE: That was not a factor.

JUDD: I think because Tom was successful, I thought–maybe I'm wrong. Tom, you can tell me. Because we were starting so late in the year, like I didn't come in until August, that we started using that first year as the money, banking the money for the renovation. Because at the time, we knew we were going to be renovated.

PRINCE: Indeed, a chunk of the initial funding, because we weren't fully up and running the first year, we banked it for this dedicated–I think it was $3 million–that eventually went for the renovation.

ZIERLER: These three projects, do they come in with their own funding, and KISS is there to provide the whiteboard, to provide the spark?

JUDD: There's no funding that comes in to KISS for–our funding is Keck Foundation. These three people have their ideas or their three partners, JPL-Caltech partners, so they know what they want to do. Then, KISS funds the workshop, the food, the space, the poster session, the short course, this, that.

PRINCE: I don't think we even had a short course at that time, did we?

JUDD: Yeah, I don't think we had one yet.

ZIERLER: For example, Sergio is not a PI of an NSF-funded project that now comes to KISS.

JUDD: No. Because that would not be a KISS thing.

PRINCE: In Sergio's case, it would be new ideas for the technology of large space structures and also applications of large space structures.

ZIERLER: And these three projects are already set to articulate, "Here are Caltech and here are JPL capabilities, and in order for this to work, they need to be merged and nurtured in this institution"? That's the idea?


ZIERLER: What a great idea. [Laugh]

JUDD: And there was involvement of other institutions. DOD came, and other academic partners came as well. But that was not the focus in the very beginning. It was very much JPL-campus-centric, where we did bring in other people, but really…

PRINCE: I can't remember exactly when we eventually had three co-leads, one from campus, one from JPL, one from external.

JUDD: We can look. But it became clear, to Tom and I at least, and to the steering committee once we brought it up, that ideas that you want to actually have happen in the real world need to have external support from external communities. You can't just do your own mission anymore. You can't just do that. If you're doing a mission that has to do with Earth science, you should have Earth scientists from other places come in, poke, prod, and put in their ideas.

ZIERLER: This is also an acknowledgement that science is now Big Science.

JUDD: Sure, I guess.

PRINCE: I wouldn't have called that a thing.

JUDD: I just think we felt that we needed to do things a little differently. Then, Tom stood up the External Advisory Committee. He decided to have a committee of external people come in…

ZIERLER: External to campus and JPL.

JUDD: Yes, right.

ZIERLER: Who would you have come in?

PRINCE: Lars Bildsten, who is director of Kavli and worked with me as a post-doc, for instance.

JUDD: Somebody like Julian Nott, who is a world pioneer in ballooning. But more importantly than that, a big thinker. Somebody who thought far enough to think, "What could this actually be?" There are people from all the different disciplines that we felt could really look and see the possibility of having external involvement amplified in the actual studies. And they were the ones who said, "You should have an external lead." One of their recommendations coming out was, "Have an external lead. Let's review. How many external people are involved? If you really want the external community to be included, then you need to do this type of thing."

ZIERLER: Where are the trustees in all this? I'm thinking, for example, like, a Charlie Trimble, who loves to go and visit labs, loves to see if he could generate support for ideas that are way too undeveloped to be funded, but are deserving of being nurtured. Are the trustees excited by this? Do they want to get involved? Is this part of their orbit?

JUDD: I don't even think it's on their radar.

PRINCE: Basically, not much on their radar screen.

JUDD: Because it's funded by the Keck Foundation.

PRINCE: Kent Kresa, a board of trustees member, was very much involved.

ZIERLER: But you're not presenting at board meetings or anything like that.

PRINCE: Not at all. I think we may have had one presentation to the board of trustees.

ZIERLER: But this was not a major factor.

PRINCE: Not a major factor. By the way, going back, to some extent, there's this backdrop of, "This is an experiment. We've asked the Keck Foundation to do this." But we don't know about it yet. Then, the acceptance, which eventually, it was very well-accepted across campus, that's gradual process. There were markers in there, like this faculty meeting. But I think maybe it wasn't exposed that much to the board of trustees because nobody knew what it was going to be like.

ZIERLER: In these itinerant years, you have these three anchor programs from the beginning. Are the spaces that you have, the basement here, the closet here, whatever it is, providing even a modicum of infrastructure for what these collaborations want to do? Or is the whole pre-history to getting up to the sixth floor you both saying, "We need proper space to host the people to do the thing that we want them to do"?

JUDD: Yes.


ZIERLER: The answer's yes.

PRINCE: Right. Also, the other thing is, the Keck Institute has always provided space for people to come together for a limited period of time. But how they then collaborate outside of those times, they're in their own spaces primarily. They might come and visit, especially once we have a home, a facility like this. They would come, visit, sit down, interact with people. A lot of the interaction outside of the actual workshops takes place in their own venues.

ZIERLER: Is there a graduate student, junior scientist/engineer at JPL? Is there a generational mentoring component to this as well? Is KISS interested in graduate fellowships or making sure that, for example, a Caltech professor's research group is going to be integrated into the project? What does KISS think about from the young person's perspective on this?

JUDD: Part of the original proposal was that we'd have prize post-doctoral fellowships, where any person anywhere in the world could apply to do world-class science or technology development. Those were the prize post-doctoral fellowships, and we would have two or three a year. Then, we had graduate student fellowships. I'll let Tom talk about how it happened, but EAS was able to secure four graduate students a year as part of the GALCIT program. Those were four graduate students that were absolutely penned into the proposal every year for eight years. We transitioned also into having some graduate student fellowships that had to do with technical development programs. Once they were funded, here's where we start the study program. When the faculty member gets funded to do the technology development, there was almost always a graduate student or two that would be funded out of that, so then we had them as graduate student fellows as well.

ZIERLER: How did GPS finally come around?

JUDD: I'll leave that for Tom.

ZIERLER: Were you making the case that you needed proper space?

JUDD: We were always making the case. But in all honesty, when you are starting up an institute from nothing, you try lots and lots of different things. What sticks, what doesn't stick, what works, what doesn't work. It's like wandering around in the dark until, "Ah, there's a little light. We're hanging onto that light. We're going to keep that." "Oh, there's something else that's working." And then, kind of building it all into this inculcation of all these different ideas. We knew we had something once we got to Millikan. It was just that very first feeling of, "We've got something." Honestly, I think that's where I finally started breathing. I finally felt like, "We're being taken seriously. We're being given this beautiful space. This space is inspiring. It works very well. The combination of this space with the Athenaeum for meals"–and that is also just jaw-dropping. There is no other faculty/private club anywhere that people coming to a study would ever have access to like the Athenaeum. That is absolutely the location of some of the best ideas. You have a glass of wine. Three days into the study is when things finally start coming together. Because when you come, you're all competing with each other about your ideas and what you want to do. But when you all come up with something together, and you start trusting each other, and you start talking, that's when the magic happens.

ZIERLER: Are you leaning on your JPL contacts at all in your early years?

JUDD: Oh, the entire time.

ZIERLER: What's a situation where you would make a phone call to a trusted old colleague? What issue would be relevant for you?

JUDD: For instance, a lot of times, we would be in a study, and somebody would say, "Wow, we really need somebody who's a dark matter expert. We didn't actually think it would apply at all." I would call up Leonidas Moustakas, and I would say, "Hey, Lexi, could you pop over here for half an hour? Or meet us for drinks? We want to have a little, tiny session on how dark matter could be affected if we did this, or how you could use this technology for that." Because I knew–I won't say every scientist. I even knew some of the ones in 33, I knew all of 32. 38 is all instrument, so I knew a ton of people in the instrument division. I could just make a call, and they would come for me.

ZIERLER: The question was the extent to which Michele was able to leverage JPL contacts, and the answer was, in a big way.

JUDD: Yeah.

ZIERLER: This is probably a good narrative break for next time. You go to Millikan, sixth floor, KISS really gets going at this point.

PRINCE: If I can just make one more statement. I think one perspective here, and it also relates to what Michele brought to the Keck Institute, is that my original concept was just to appoint leads, bring them together, but then the leads would be the ones that really determined how things would work. In some sense, the Institute then would provide the space, the venue, the organization. What Michele brought to this, though, was much more of the personal interactions and the techniques that you use to bring people closer together. I was just going to let it happen. Just bring people together, have them discuss, and so forth. And that's what Michele brought. That's really important because that's the difference between me thinking about it and Michele knowing how to do it in an absolutely great way.

ZIERLER: The question that Michele deflected to you was when and how GPS got on board or realized that they needed to.

PRINCE: They actually got on board.

JUDD: They did. I just wanted to say, did you feel like it was Ken Farley's involvement in the geochronology study?

PRINCE: Yeah, absolutely.

ZIERLER: Was Ken part of the original three? Was he informing the geochronology study?

JUDD: No, it was Dan McCleese. I'm trying to remember who the campus person was. It might've been John Eiler.

PRINCE: Yeah, it was probably John Eiler. But then, Ken Farley, who actually was one of the headwinds, thought up an idea for how to date rocks in situ on Mars with the current stuff that was on its way to Mars.

ZIERLER: And everyone can now play nicely together. Now, KISS has a place for GPS where it's not a territorial thing.

PRINCE: I don't think it changed that quickly, but if you think about it from the perspective of new ideas, here was a new idea that came out of a Keck Institute study that would not have come out otherwise. It was an existence proof that there was more than just individual faculty working in their individual groups, which was very powerful.

ZIERLER: Which decisively answers the question that the original division chairs and others were asking, "Why can't we just do it ourselves?"

JUDD: Right. And there's no way they could've done that on their own.

ZIERLER: We should develop that. The geochronology one, why could this not have been a native GPS program?

JUDD: I'm going to backtrack even more. It wasn't even on the NASA road map, and that's the type of thing KISS wants to do. Not even on the road map, but a great idea. When you have somebody with an idea like that, and you have people at JPL who know every single part of that rover that you're trying to figure out how to reconfigure the software to reconfigure how the onboard laboratory will work, how you heat up something to a specific temperature, that you have to have this input from the rock sample to get to this temperature, the entire process, there's no way a Caltech person would ever know that. Or even conceive that it was possible.

PRINCE: The other thing, which is just central to the Keck Institute, but sometimes not stated, is that everyone then owns that idea. They were there at the formation of that idea. All of the sudden, now, you have a natural advocacy group. They don't feel, "Well, it's so-and-so's idea." It's our idea, and that's where the magic happens.

ZIERLER: We'll set the narrative for next time. Is GPS and the geochronology program as a symbol of, "This is for real now. KISS is really doing something that it said it was going to do," at all related to securing the space in Millikan to allow all of this to happen?

JUDD: I would say no.

ZIERLER: It's just a happy convergence.

PRINCE: How can you analyze Ed Stolper's mind? I don't know. [Laugh] But it could've been.

ZIERLER: Maybe this was the kind of thing, even if it's sort of a little voice in his head, for saying, "KISS is for real. We need to give them real space." Maybe it's a question for Ed, but it seems to me in terms of the substance and the chronology, there is some kind of convergence here.

PRINCE: There are probably a number of things going on, including, "Firestone now is still receding into the future, and that floor's opening up because the Library isn't as actively used as it was." It's probably a number of things. Probably Ed Stolper put all those together and said, "That's a good place."

ZIERLER: Last question for today. Ed comes to you and says, "Would you like this amazing space?" Or do you realize it becomes available and say to Ed, "Can we please have this space?"

PRINCE: I think it was Ed coming to us.

JUDD: I certainly didn't know about the space, so it's not like I went, "Ooh, this is coming available." You may have known it, but I certainly didn't.

PRINCE: I think it must've been Ed coming to us.

ZIERLER: Do you both have early memories of taking the elevator up there and being in awe?

JUDD: Absolutely.


ZIERLER: That was it. It spoke to you, you saw the mountains, it was all coming together.

JUDD: Yeah.

ZIERLER: Let's pick up on that point next time.

[End of Recording]

ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It's Wednesday, October 25, 2023. The saga continues with Michele Judd and Professor Tom Prince. We left off yesterday at a nice narrative transition. You are now safely ensconced in the sixth floor of what used to be called Millikan Library, now called Caltech Hall. What did the space look like when you arrived? Who was there before? How much renovation did you have opportunity to do?

JUDD: Wasn't LIGO there?

PRINCE: Yeah, I think it was.

JUDD: I think it was LIGO.

PRINCE: I don't think we had a lot of renovation to do.

JUDD: There was maybe $20,000 of renovation, but it was mainly cleaning up all of the mess. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: All of the gravitational waves that were laying around?

PRINCE: But I don't remember having to remove any walls or anything. Right as you came out of the elevators, there was this common area that we eventually had couches and things in for gathering. At the other side in the back, the part that sticks out of the library, that was the conference room, which was tight.

JUDD: Very tight. No windows. It was like a box. And when you came off the elevator, directly to the right was the big lounge with all of the windows. And then, running down the side of the building were just two- to three-person office spaces all the way down.

ZIERLER: But it's still only you on staff, right? Is there anyone else at that point?

JUDD: Paula Lonergan was on staff at that time. Minerva Calderon is just over in Cahill. And Patama is, I think, over here in Steele. I think by that time, Paula Lonergan was half time, we had another half-time person, Exie Marie Leagons, join us. Tom and I had an office, then the two admins shared an office.

ZIERLER: You mentioned 50% of your time. Did you split about equal time between your Keck office and PMA office?

PRINCE: No. Right about then, I don't know exactly when, we started to have a transition where when we solicited proposals from groups, Michele would say, "When is the best time to have the workshops?" Oftentimes, the first workshop was in the summer. [Laugh] And so, I would say I was probably spending less than half time by that time.

ZIERLER: How far along was each of the three original projects by the time of the move to the sixth floor?

JUDD: I would say they were in technical development.

PRINCE: They were already having infusions of funds for the follow-on technical development.

ZIERLER: What did technical development mean for each of them?

JUDD: I don't remember the exact details, it's 100 workshops ago. [Laugh] But I would say that for the large space structures, they started looking at creating very large mirrors with small autonomously docking small sats, not CubeSats. They were focused on autonomous docking, undocking, moving. They had this plan for a huge mirror, and if one broke, a whole section would break away, this would drop off, and a new one would come in, stick itself in, and rejigger itself into place. And then, a huge mirror would be in space. Is that right, Tom?

PRINCE: That was the concept. What followed on from that was an attempt to build some small sats with docking capability. And that, we funded for several years.

JUDD: Yeah.

PRINCE: I think it began as three small spacecraft, which would then have optical elements that would then focus to a central spacecraft, which would then accumulate and register the light. I think that wound eventually down to two spacecraft, a secondary spacecraft and then the primary mirror spacecraft.

JUDD: Because they were trying to do a proof of concept.

PRINCE: And docking was a big part of that.

ZIERLER: And self-repair, I assume, as well.

PRINCE: Not at that point, just being able to create an image out of having two separate spacecraft.

ZIERLER: There were no science objectives, this really was a technology demo.

JUDD: It was a proof-of-concept tech demo.

PRINCE: Yeah, small mirrors, the whole thing.

ZIERLER: The founding concept of KISS as an alliance of Caltech and JPL capabilities, where were each in this project?

PRINCE: That, I don't remember. There were JPL-ers involved, but I'd have to go back and look.

JUDD: This was a problematic study with the perspective in that a good portion of the JPL-ers wouldn't talk to anybody because it was deemed an ITAR issue, and the professor was a foreign national at the time.


PRINCE: International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

ZIERLER: A national security problem.

PRINCE: Actually, it's somewhat national security, but it can also go to economic issues.

JUDD: This is a pretty rough study because the first three, we were just trying different things out, see what worked, what didn't work. This one had 70 people in it, and that's when we learned we should've listened to…

PRINCE: Especially the Kavli Institute had said, "Keep things down to about 20 to 30." That was their recommendation. The groups themselves, I think all three, wanted to have more people, the conventional workshop approach where you invite as many people as you can. That didn't work as well with our first three.

ZIERLER: What were the other two?

JUDD: One was Mars geochronology, which stayed at 30-ish, and then the other one stayed at 30-ish, too, if I recall.

PRINCE: I thought the Mars geochronology was larger. Because that was the Queen Mary one. Was that one 30 people?

JUDD: I can check, but it was not 70.

PRINCE: No, it was not 70. One of the places we had one of our first workshops was the Queen Mary.

ZIERLER: Really?


JUDD: Yes, and it will never happen again. They made a cogent case for–having it at Caltech, in their opinion, was not far enough for them to stay together. And they leaned into, "You want to be an experimental place? Let's try it." And it was a successful study, however it cost three times more than any other study. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: [Laugh] You're eating caviar every day in the afternoon?

JUDD: Well, no, it wasn't that, but putting people up on the Queen Mary, they wanted to completely have the JPL and Caltech people together and some other external people. Their thoughts were good. It wasn't that it was a bad idea. We wanted to let them try, but we just couldn't afford that type of study.

PRINCE: One thing to emphasize here is we were trying to figure out what worked.

ZIERLER: What's the ideal with the cruise? A captive audience?

PRINCE: It wasn't a cruise. The Queen Mary just sat there at the dock. The Queen Mary sat there at the dock for years.

JUDD: It's like a hotel. Going to a hotel, forcing everybody to be there together.

ZIERLER: It could've just as easily been at The Four Seasons or whatever.

JUDD: Yes.

PRINCE: Part of our philosophy has always been, even if we think the thing's a little bit crazy, to try it, because who knows? That's what we're in the business of. Ideas are put out there, and we see if they work, and if they cost three times as much as our other workshops and we can't afford it, well, it doesn't work.

ZIERLER: Was the geochronology attached, or did it necessitate progress on a particular rover mission?

JUDD: Yes.

PRINCE: Yeah. We're interested in developing forward-looking technology, so part of this was funding laboratory studies of techniques to do geochronology on Mars. I'd have to look back and see the various things we supported. But actually, out of that workshop came the idea to–the current exploration rover has some capability of dating rocks on Mars.

ZIERLER: This is Perseverance? Curiosity was the first one to work with samples.

JUDD: It was Curiosity.

PRINCE: It was Curiosity, then.

ZIERLER: But Perseverance actually has a drilling capacity for Mars Sample Return in the future.

PRINCE: No, this has nothing to do with Mars Sample Return, this is in situ dating. You see a rock, can you date it? It turned out that the capability was nascent there but not realized. Actually, the idea came out that, "Well, the exploration rovers actually have the capability to do this." I forget the sequence, but they reprogrammed the instruments while they were in flight to Mars in order to carry out the data.

JUDD: I don't recall if it was in flight because that was not considered a primary goal of the mission. It was considered an extended mission, I believe. I'm not sure if it was in flight or after it had landed.

PRINCE: I have definitely in my mind that there was programming done in flight in order to make it possible.

ZIERLER: And the Caltech-JPL alliance for this would've been the GPS expertise and stable isotope geochemistry, that kind of thing?


ZIERLER: Ken Farley, Paul Asimow, John Eiler.

PRINCE: Right. And JPL obviously, all the experience with the rovers.

JUDD: And I was just looking this up, the name of the study was New Directions in Robotic Exploration of Mars. We remember it as the geochronology one because that's the big thing that came out of it, but the title of the study was New Directions in Robotic Exploration of Mars. It wasn't even the key thing, it's just something that came out bubbled to the surface.

PRINCE: By the way, there's a little bit on each of the studies on our webpage. If you go and look way back to the beginning, there's a page on each program, which includes the workshops and something about the technical development.

ZIERLER: I'll ask a specific question to this, but then we'll generalize it for what KISS is designed to do. Obviously, the capacity for the rovers to do geochronology is exciting and important, but does the conversation really begin at JPL or at Caltech? Or are they talking to each other, and that's exactly where KISS comes in to say, "This is great, you're already talking to each other. Let's make this happen"?

PRINCE: Do you remember where the idea was first broached?

JUDD: No, because that came directly to me in the proposal, the idea of the workshop itself. The idea of the geochronology part–we have breakout sessions, and we give them challenges. "Think about this. Think about this. Think about this." And maybe, Tom, it would be good for you to give an overview of the week, what a study looks like, when the magic happens, why it happens.

PRINCE: I'll let Michele do that. But one key thing here is, what eventually became the Keck Institute way of doing programs is not what's proposed there. The overall thrust and the goals are fine. But the actual mechanics of what we ended up with is quite different. In the proposal, there was what was called a large study and a couple of small studies. And the large study actually ran with people at Caltech in residence for a month at a time. How did that come about? That's the way the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics runs. But what we quickly learned was that the system engineers at JPL didn't have a month. And being at Caltech itself, you weren't going to get faculty to just sit in one place for a month. The large programs went out the window pretty quickly, then we had more small programs each year rather than a large and two small.

JUDD: I have no memory of this, and that's because we never had a month-long study ever.

ZIERLER: What about the third program?

JUDD: The third one is Coherent Arrays for Astronomy and Remote Sensing. This is the MMIC.

PRINCE: Yeah, so that one was instrumentation-oriented, new-capability instrumentation, namely MMIC detectors for radio astronomy. And with that one, I forget the details of what came out of the workshop, but I remember the technical development was that we alpha-ed at a lab in PMA to specifically investigate MMIC detectors as they were made commercially, test them, and feedback to the company to improve the yield of MMIC detectors. With all of these, I would have to go back in detail to the individual program.

JUDD: Something that I saw that stands out in my mind about this study was, Tom was really adamant that–because we had MMICs, and then we had bolometers. And the MMIC people were like, "We're not inviting the bolometer people at all, and we're not going to do it."

ZIERLER: What is a bolometer?

PRINCE: A MMIC is a device that does coherent detection. It's a high-frequency detector, then you add up the signal strength coherently. A bolometer you can think of as you just measure the energy, and it just raises the temperature of the device. Was that this study, or was it the next one?

JUDD: Well, Andrew Lang ended up going to this study.

PRINCE: What was the name of this particular study?

JUDD: This one was called MMIC Array Receivers and Spectrographs. This is not the one?

PRINCE: I almost thought that in the First Billion Years was when we really got into the–but Andrew Lang may have very well been at this one. But we'd have to go back and look. But certainly, the interesting sort of sidelight is that there were definitely times when there were two competing technologies. We would bring them together, the people, to duke it out, but in a friendly, collegial atmosphere.

ZIERLER: Or maybe even join forces?

PRINCE: Yeah. In one case, we actually funded both of them to proceed because it turned out that one was better at picking out a certain line of the cosmic microwave background, and the other one was better at picking out a different line of the cosmic microwave background.

ZIERLER: To go back to the name, Keck Institute for Space Studies. Great acronym. You can't pass that up.

JUDD: I hated it in the beginning.

PRINCE: I didn't like it that much, either.

JUDD: Yeah, but you weren't called Miss KISS for years.

ZIERLER: [Laugh] Dr. KISS?

PRINCE: I forget how we got that one, actually.

ZIERLER: I wonder, though, if the name Space Studies was deliberately vague and inclusive enough so that you could fund everything from planetary science, to astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology.


JUDD: When you gave it to me, I said, "We've got to come up with a new name." Now, I think it's perfect, but at the time, I was not happy.

PRINCE: One of the early documents says (Name) Institute because we hadn't figured it out. I think what we were playing with for quite a while was just Institute for Space Studies, ISS. Then, well, Keck funded it, so it became the Keck Institute for Space Studies. In fact, I did have a whole list of names that were suggested. One of them was Institute for Space Studies, and that might've even preceded Keck being the funding target.

ZIERLER: Is Space Studies deliberately exclusive of Earth science?


ZIERLER: What would then be a plausible space study for Earth science? Kind of like the JPL satellite Earth science program and capabilities?

PRINCE: For me, anything that fell into the sphere of common interest for JPL and Caltech was fair game. I was not hung up with boundaries imposed by the name of the Institute.

JUDD: Yeah.

PRINCE: For instance, almost everything we did had a space component, but a lot of, say, the astrophysics was looking out into space rather than being what you'd normally think of as a joint program between JPL and campus. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, how much jet propulsion is being done? Basically, my opinion was that any topic that could be of joint interest between campus and JPL, and interesting for the external community, was fair game. But not biology, as such, unless it was exobiology.

ZIERLER: You mentioned you didn't like the name at first, but it grew on you over time. What was wrong about it, and what's okay about it now?

JUDD: Well, KISS just sounds frivolous and very kitschy. As KISS grew on me, I felt it was the perfect name because we are a little out there. Our studies are very intimate. KISS implies some kind of connection, a meeting. I felt very attached to it after a while, but man, the beginning–it didn't have any gravitas yet. It was this kind of nebulous thing, and you're trying to explain it to people. But once KISS's name got out there, and people were mad they weren't invited to the studies, at that point, I didn't care what we were called. [Laugh]

PRINCE: I didn't like the name, and I might be able to find how it was actually chosen, but my guess is, we needed a name coming out of the faculty-JPL committee, and we didn't have one, so eventually there was a vote, which KISS then won. If you notice, I almost always use Keck Institute rather than KISS because I never liked the name. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: When did the Institute establish momentum and become a known entity, where you're starting to field more proposals and not having to work so hard to get the word out? Is it within the sixth-floor Millikan Library period? How long were you on the sixth floor for?

JUDD: Just a year.

PRINCE: I would have to go back and look. But I would say that the third set of programs was sort of where things really started to gel.

JUDD: I'd agree with that.

PRINCE: I think by the third one, we really started to have interesting proposals, although I think even the second year had interesting ones.

JUDD: Yeah, I thought they were interesting, too.

PRINCE: But we were trying to find the right way to do workshops the second year, and the third year, it evolved from them, but we really had what you would recognize as the Keck Institute and its programs pretty much there.

ZIERLER: What were the circumstances of leaving the sixth floor after a year?

JUDD: We were told the day we moved in it was only for a year. Ed Stolper said, "You get it for a year. Make plans now for what your next move is."

ZIERLER: It's coveted real estate, I guess?

PRINCE: As I understood it, the overall objective was to make that all administration, so having a crazy think tank in there was not part of the master plan.

JUDD: Now, AIM is up there, too, but whatever. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: Is the Oppenheimer house in discussion during that year?



ZIERLER: You didn't have a plan of where you were going to go, necessarily.

PRINCE: We were itinerant again. For how long?

JUDD: For five years total. We didn't move in here until December 2013.

ZIERLER: Where were you after the sixth floor?

JUDD: Keith Spalding.

ZIERLER: You had already tasted the good life, though, on the sixth floor.

JUDD: Yes, and we were bitter. I was bitter.

PRINCE: Yeah, I was bitter, too.

ZIERLER: And then, what happened? How did you finally make all of this happen?

PRINCE: Do you remember?

JUDD: Well, we were taken on a tour of all these different spaces, and we were asked to evaluate them.

ZIERLER: On campus?

JUDD: Yeah, absolutely. Firestone, the CAPSI House, the Public Affairs House, whatever the one is with the house in the back that we could've turned into a meeting room.

ZIERLER: These all sound like renovation projects.

JUDD: And they were. There was never, ever going to be a new building until Jean-Lou came into the picture. The CAPSI House, sixth floor of Millikan, Firestone.

PRINCE: Yeah, Firestone remained in play.

JUDD: Public Relations House, which was never big enough anyway.

ZIERLER: That was on Hill?

JUDD: Yeah. The CAPSI House would've cost a fortune to refurbish. Then, we started going around and looking at spaces. I was either out of the country or something, and somebody took Tom over here on a tour of the Tolman-Bacher House. Then, I came over a second time, and the Beckman Institute folks caught me in the house. "What are you doing here?" And we were told specifically we cannot say why we are here. I can't lie. I'm sitting there, "Uh, we're looking at the space. This is a house for VIPs, right? And we would have to come to you to use it?" I was just dying. And we looked at it, we evaluated it, and said, "Look, it's a beautiful house. There's no way this house could fit the Institute." At that point, they were like, "Well, what about if there was a building added?"

ZIERLER: And the Oppenheimer shed was still there?

JUDD: Garage.

PRINCE: Yeah, and also the time I remember coming over here most vividly was with Charles Elachi. We looked at the site. And I had the opinion that the footprint of the house–I think there had been a filled-in swimming pool and then the garage. Just looking at it, I said, "The footprint isn't big enough." I forget which of us had the idea, but we saw that there was this little sort of extension off to the west where there wasn't anything built. But it wasn't part of the house real estate. After that meeting, we inquired, and eventually it was approved that the Keck Institute would have that extension.

JUDD: And it was the street. It was actually Lura Street pulled up behind. That's how the cafeteria got the supplies. They didn't come around the way they do now. There was a very big street. It was a big street, there was the garage, and I thought it was you, but you or Charles, whoever, said, "If we could get that space and build the plenary meeting space, that would work." Then, that kicked off an entire process of reevaluation of the Tolman-Bacher house, then we had three architects come in and meet with Tom, me, the president, Dean, who was finance guy, the head of facilities, a few other people, and said, "Tell us what you could do to build a plenary building." They all came and presented. I was not on my best behavior at this meeting, I have to say.

ZIERLER: Architecturally, what does plenary building evoke or suggest?

JUDD: The main meeting group, where the group would have 30 people in the room.

PRINCE: If you look at this house, there's no space for 30 people. If you looked at this slim sliver, that would be the swimming pool and the garage, there was also no space. We needed a meeting room that was sizable.

ZIERLER: Charles Elachi walking around campus, opining about possible spaces, suggested he was a big fan of the idea.

JUDD: Absolutely.

ZIERLER: Now, are you getting from him that JPL-ers are now loving KISS? Is that where he's coming from on this?

PRINCE: Way back at the beginning when the proposal was being formed, he was already central. And the reason was that I worked very closely with him. I was Chief Scientist, he was the director. We had a good working relationship. He and I then figured out how we should write the proposal that would have JPL involved, but not raise the eyebrows of NASA and also be doable within the JPL structure. There was a committee that was helping write the proposal. But basically, he was one of the key people, even though I don't think he's listed.

JUDD: I would absolutely agree. He was so supportive.

ZIERLER: You mentioned how Jean-Lou Chameau was really the person who made the breaking ground happen.

JUDD: It ended up being his decision, right?

PRINCE: Right.

JUDD: They got three architects, and they presented out their ideas for giving us a plenary space. Then, Tom and I immediately liked one, Jean-Lou immediately liked a different one, and neither one of us were interested in the third one.

PRINCE: I don't remember any of this.

JUDD: Oh, yeah, I totally remember this.

ZIERLER: A small point, the 30-person space that you're envisioning, is this already coming from your perspective the learning curve that the 70-person collaborations are too big, and 30 people is where you want to be?

JUDD: Oh, yeah.

ZIERLER: It's almost like you want to design a space that limits or can't allow for anything larger than a 30-person collaboration.

JUDD: That's what we wanted, actually. That is not what we got.

PRINCE: Right.

JUDD: That is what we wanted. Jean-Lou wanted the architect that was, "This is a historic house. We have to preserve every part of this house." Then, they presented some thing for the plenary room that we were just like, "Mmm…" Tom and I liked Lehr Architects, who were amazing. They were the best partners we could've ever had on this project. Then, we said, "Let's walk over and look at it together." All the architects were gone, we were walking over, and again, not my finest moment. Thank God Tom was there. We could tell Jean-Lou wanted this one architect. We were walking over, and Jean-Lou says, "Convince me that your architects are the one." And I'm like, "Can we?" [Laugh] And Tom just comes in like, "Here's what I think." [Laugh] He was very…

PRINCE: Diplomatic.

JUDD: Yeah. We talked about it, we took a tour, we went back up to his office, we sat there, and then Jean-Lou said, "Okay, let me think about it." We ended up getting the architect that we wanted, although Jean-Lou was very clear, "This was my decision." "Yeah, it was not yours." But then, once they started actually getting quotes and looking at numbers, a couple of things happened. One, the Millikan boardroom was not working out in any shape or form, and in my opinion, has never worked out as the boardroom.

PRINCE: It was too small.

JUDD: They then started thinking about, "If we throw extra money into this, can we build a bigger building?" We did not want a bigger building. We wanted a building just for 30, very small, couches in the back. The one great thing about having five years of looking at different spaces was, we knew exactly what we wanted. We still didn't get it, but this is an amazing space.

ZIERLER: I've been in there because the board of trustees has meetings there.

JUDD: That's exactly why.

ZIERLER: The deal was that this would be colocated with other groups?

JUDD: Yeah.

PRINCE: And in fact, from day one, we've had second priority for that space.

JUDD: Board of trustees meetings always have first priority.

PRINCE: But those are limited, so it's okay. I'm not criticizing. But formally, we have second priority.

ZIERLER: I want to go back to the funding structure from the beginning. $24 million total, $3 million a year over eight years. Is the building part of the $24 million? Is there a separate campaign to make the building happen?

PRINCE: The building's part of the $24 million.

ZIERLER: So you're banking for the first five years, not having a building, so that when you get to year five, you have enough money saved up to pay cash? What does the funding look like?

PRINCE: A couple things. I think it's actually in the proposal that there was $3 million for a building.

JUDD: Yeah, I think it was $3 million, and it ended up costing more.

ZIERLER: $3 million doesn't sound like enough, particularly if it's a larger building you didn't want.

PRINCE: If it was the sixth floor of the Millikan Library, they would've done all this for free.

ZIERLER: And you wouldn't have complained.

JUDD: We would've had another year of programming and more time to fundraise for the future.

PRINCE: In fact, this is just a guess, one of the things that was going on when Ed Stolper was provost of mine was, "Oh, if they stay on the sixth floor of Millikan, the Keck Foundation's still got to give that $3 million. It's going to go into the Keck Institute rather than being $3 million to develop infrastructure here on campus."

ZIERLER: Does Caltech help with the funding of the building?

JUDD: They have to. We can't build that building without it.

ZIERLER: And it's reasonable because they say, "We're going to use it for the board of trustees."

PRINCE: Yeah, and everything had to be better because it was the board of trustees.

JUDD: I will say, we wanted writable space on everything. We wanted you to be able to write on the chairs, the desks, wherever you had an idea.

ZIERLER: This is a brainstorm center.

JUDD: We wanted super-easy room reconfiguration, like, you could just move desks into little groups and areas. The Office of the President had to have some mahogany tables. The tables were $500-something each. The chairs wouldn't stack. They picked out these expensive chairs that we could not even store. We couldn't move it. You had to have transportation come in to screw in everything, unscrew it, screw it back in next time they set up. They stripped half the bolts. We had a meeting, and the Office of the President said, "Here's what we're going to have." I said, "I have to say, this does not meet the critical criteria of this Institute for you to have that furniture." And they said, "You are having that furniture." I said, "Okay. I have to state, this does not meet our criteria." They said, "This is what you're getting." I'm like, "Okay." It's fine.

ZIERLER: It's in the record.

JUDD: You just have to move on.

PRINCE: Well, the board of trustees needed a place.

ZIERLER: What was the final price tag? Double?

PRINCE: Yeah, approximately.

JUDD: It was, like, $5.6 million.

ZIERLER: And Caltech made up the difference?

JUDD: Yeah.

PRINCE: Well, once it was decided that this was partially board of trustees, at least my visibility of the finances was minimal. It became a campus project run out of facilities. I had no visibility, and therefore, I did not worry about the details of how much things cost.

ZIERLER: What about catering capabilities? You want to be able to give people sandwiches and sodas while they're brainstorming all day.

JUDD: We didn't have space.

ZIERLER: What do people do when they break for lunch?

JUDD: We go to the Athenaeum. Which is fine because we shamelessly use the Athenaeum. From the perspective of the Institute, one, we want people to get out of their seats and move. They have been sitting, they have been absorbing. Your brain completely changes once you are moving. And you're headed to a new location. You're letting things float to the top, letting things meander, you're walking next to someone new, you're chatting, you're doing this, you finally show up. You're seated at a table with different people. We rearrange people. We have a team lead at each table so there's no power table. There was a lot of thought that went into it.

PRINCE: Tablets at every single place.

JUDD: Yeah, pens, tablets, and all sorts of stuff, and then they walk back. We had many, many dreams about having a big kitchen just for breakfasts and stuff so that we could sit around and have big, long trestle tables with toasters at ends so people could just do their toast, have tea. We wanted an herb garden. We got lemons and limes for our margaritas. But once it became dual-focused, it completely changed, and that room got huge, which doesn't help us at all. The room is just too big.

ZIERLER: What's the capacity in there?

JUDD: It's 100 in folding chairs. It's 66 for the board of trustees, and for us, it's 30 and a nested U.

ZIERLER: Board of trustees needs 66 chairs? Wow. Can you shrink it for the purposes of the 30-person sweet spot?

JUDD: We do, but it's still too big.

ZIERLER: The room feels empty.

JUDD: We've added things along the side. But like I said, we wanted couches and all sorts of things so that people could sit around, listen from a couch, and all that. But we couldn't do that given the constraints of the room.

PRINCE: We've been concentrating on that building, but then there's here.

ZIERLER: Is that a package deal from the beginning?

JUDD: Yes.

PRINCE: Yes, and one of the things that happened as a backdrop of this is that as we had less and less input into that building, campus pretty much ignored this building. We got to do what we wanted with this building. And you can see the results. Because this house does not look like it used to.

ZIERLER: The historic aspects look the same.

PRINCE: Some of those things were here, but the furniture, the Spanish sort of wrought-iron, candlesticks, carpets, all those things, we were trying to take it back to what it looked like before and make it a place where history is on display as it would be in a house. You look around, and this could be somebody's house. That's a whole other theme, I think we were really thinking, "How do we make this part of things into very usable things where we can move around furniture and a space that is very usable for the Institute and at the same time, very historic?"

JUDD: I think that's totally true. And I think whether consciously or unconsciously, we wanted old and new. For instance, this is a breakout room, and there's no screen. We refused to put a screen in here for this particular room. We tried to keep as much as we could. I'm still mad we don't have a fireplace that works. I imagined sherry at night with a burning fire, and a misty thing, and us talking about the next great idea to launch into space. I still got two fireplaces. None of them work. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: It looks like it does. You've got the char on the bricks. [Laugh] Was there any opposition on campus like, "Hey, why do you guys get two buildings?"

JUDD: Oh, no.

ZIERLER: Biology was happy to vacate?

JUDD: They were not happy but they had no choice because they never took care of the building.

PRINCE: Yeah, it was run down. They weren't taking care of it.

JUDD: Remember, I mentioned the blue tarp. It wasn't 10 years, but I don't know how many years.

PRINCE: They weren't investing in it. And the administration knew we would actually try to make it usable.

ZIERLER: Because the new building is bigger for your purposes, did the smallness of Tolman-Bacher become an asset? Was it the intimate spot that can't be offered over there?

PRINCE: Yeah. We have breakouts in here.

ZIERLER: Did the construction and renovation happen simultaneously?

JUDD: Yes.

PRINCE: What year did we move in here?

JUDD: 2013.

PRINCE: This was a long process. Meeting with the architects, figuring out which architect, that took a year and a half at least.

JUDD: It was a lot.

PRINCE: Sort of three and a half years in, I'm just guessing, we were then starting to think about all of this.

JUDD: Tom and I had long conversations about what we wanted, how we wanted it, and this is a beautiful space. For me, this is beautiful. It is not what I envisioned. But it's great. It's just different. For me, I loved just having the people in their chairs. I just remember they were in these rolling chairs up in Caltech Hall, and they would just roll next door and say, "Hey, did you think about doing this?" And they'd end up staying in there for an hour and then rolling back, just this togetherness around a communal area. They used their offices all the time. They would go back to their offices, then they would plenary, breakouts, offices. We always did that. Here, there are some people who always use office space here, but it was not, "These three people to that room. These three people to that room." It's well-used, but not for the intent of me picking out with Tom, "These three people need to get together. We need to coordinate that relationship." That just didn't happen anymore here.

ZIERLER: When Cahill went up, was that a factor in your planning at all?

JUDD: That was, like, end of 2008 or early 2009. Because Downs was moving out while we were still there. That's why the third floor came open. Because they had all vacated–it was your group. SRL or something was there, and you had all vacated, and they left all of the bird–Alan Cummings. The bird data was all over the wall, all of the other SRL data was all over the walls. But that's how I remember that you were there. But you guys had all moved over there. We had to rent furniture and stuff because everything got moved, so we ended up doing a year of renting because we needed equipment.

PRINCE: Which was expensive.

JUDD: Furniture, yeah.

ZIERLER: And for the renovation-building year and a half, you were in Spalding. That was your last spot.

JUDD: Yes. At which there were no offices at all. There were no individual offices. There were two breakout rooms we were given and a plenary, and that's all we had.

ZIERLER: Were you already here during that third set of programs when things really started to gel?

JUDD: Oh, no.

ZIERLER: This is, like, crazy town. You're managing all of this, the programming is really good, but you have to do it out of Spalding.

JUDD: No, no, it was way before Spalding, I think, that it gelled.

PRINCE: Can you go to the Keck Institute website and look for programs for 2010?

ZIERLER: List of programs?

JUDD: First Billion Years was 2010. And Andrew Lang wasn't in that because he had already passed away by then.

ZIERLER: 2010, we have Future Missions to Titan, the First Billion Years, Innovate Satellite Observations, Quantifying the Sources and Sinks of Atmospheric CO2, there's your Earth science, and Innovative Approaches to Planetary Seismology. This is all great stuff.

PRINCE: I forget the second year of studies, but definitely by the third year, we were…

JUDD: Titan was in Millikan.

PRINCE: Third year was Millikan, then.

JUDD: I remember hitting Jack Beauchamp in the head with a kooshball in Millikan.

ZIERLER: Tom, I'm curious how careful you have to be in terms of favoritism to programs that are in your research wheelhouse.

JUDD: Can I answer that?


JUDD: Tom has never, as far as I can understand, gone against whatever the steering committee recommends to him. We have a steering committee of faculty and top JPL researchers and technologists, and we do the review of all of the programs, and then they are ranked by certain criteria. They are then nominated to Tom, who then will approve or not approve them, and then Tom takes them to the division chairs and says, "Here's where we're going." At that point, he's just saying, "This is what we've selected." The director makes the decision, but the decision has always been aligned with the recommendations of the steering committee. That doesn't mean that Tom does not have the opportunity, and has not used the opportunity, to start a different study in addition to it. But as far as I can remember, he's never gone against what the steering committee has recommended to Tom.

ZIERLER: Which is a very easy way to avoid any favoritism.

PRINCE: Right. Also, perspective. I came from being Chief Scientist at JPL, where I advocated for and was very interested in planetary and solar system, was very interested in Earth sciences, very interested in space engineering. Then, there's my own field of astrophysics, but that's only part of the whole mix. In some sense, my feeling about the Institute is, I wanted all of those to succeed.

ZIERLER: Absent the plenary space, 2008, '09, '10, '11, '12, where are you hosting get-togethers? You said the Queen Mary for one.

JUDD: Yeah, one and only. It was never off campus ever again.

ZIERLER: What's the solution? Where are you hosting people before this space?

JUDD: Second floor of Downs, third floor of Downs. Then, Caltech Hall. Then, Keith Spalding, then here. Where the people stay is, JPL-ers stay in their houses, local Caltech people stay here, UCLA, USC people stay wherever they are. The team leads are put up in the Athenaeum. Wherever they come from, they're put there. Then, we have a very high-value, cost-effective, used to be called the Vagabond Inn Executive. But it's four blocks away. It's actually almost closer than the Athenaeum. It's four blocks down the street, so they stay there.

ZIERLER: When does the Keck Institute start to have the programming where it's regularized, you can get excited for the next big event? When does the calendar get into a nice rhythm?

JUDD: Third year, I think.

PRINCE: I think the third year was when things really started to jive. I don't remember the details, but we were also then trying to figure out the phasing with respect to JPL. And eventually, JPL's schedule really influenced when we had our solicitations and our programs. Because if you're going to do technical development, half of it is coming for JPL to support their half of the technical development, and that had a definite cycle to it, and we had to mesh with that cycle. And I think by the third year, we had that kind of figured out.

ZIERLER: When Tom Rosenbaum comes in in 2014, is everything set at this point? Are there any big decisions left for the new president to make?

JUDD: Jean-Lou, huge supporter of KISS. I felt like he thought this was one of the gems in the Caltech crown that helped build. May not have originally come from his idea, since it was Baltimore. That olive tree has a dedication on it to Jean-Lou. If you go on the other side of it, there's a dedication plaque because this, he was proud of. On top of that, we knew we were coming up to the end of the eight years, so you have to start looking at how to fund it going forward.

ZIERLER: Eight years is 2016 into 2017.

JUDD: Yeah. He was trying to figure out what we were going to do for funding, so he was figuring out where to put it in his priority bag of funding for future things.

ZIERLER: Obviously, you don't authorize a new building without having some degree of confidence that there's a long-term funding solution.

JUDD: Yeah. And then, he leaves without finishing his…

ZIERLER: Yes, the big surprise.

JUDD: We will call it the big surprise. Then, everything stops. All fundraising stops. Because we don't know what the new president wants.

ZIERLER: But the building is done.

JUDD: Yeah, the building was done in 2013. We're merrily going along, then Tom and I see this coming along the road. We say, "Oh, the search process is long." We find out he is the provost at the University of Chicago, so he's got to finish that, then he's got to get here. Then, with the firestorm of everything that was happening, we were not at the top of the pile at that point. There was so much that had been waiting. Tom and I started going, "Uh…"

ZIERLER: Just to clarify, there's a funding plan that Jean-Lou had been working on.

JUDD: Yes, but it wasn't crystallized. He's trying to figure out, "Do we go for one other big donor? Do we go back to Keck?"

ZIERLER: So that all sort of falls apart.

JUDD: That vaporizes.

ZIERLER: Not even anything for Rosenbaum to pick up on.

JUDD: We don't know. That's certainly not at my level. Tom and I just looked down the road, and we were like, "We need to make whatever money we have remaining last as long as possible, and then we need to figure out what we're going to do going forward."

ZIERLER: Is this like a 501(c)(3), where you have to show zero at the end of the year? Or can you build up a strategic reserve?

PRINCE: We can build up reserves.

ZIERLER: So you did have something.

JUDD: Well, we are a 501(c)(3). We are Caltech.

PRINCE: But I think you're asking do you have to have a balance of zero at the end of the fiscal year. No, we don't.

JUDD: Oh, no.

ZIERLER: You did have some kind of a reserve for when Tom Rosenbaum became president.

PRINCE: For instance, we started cutting back on things we really would've liked to have continued.

ZIERLER: Programming is smaller in 2014 and 2015, and certainly in 2016, than it was the previous few years.


JUDD: We get rid of prize post-doctoral fellows, we get rid of grad students. We just don't have the money. We've talked about this with the division chairs, with steering committee. We went through the whole, "This is where we are, and we have to survive." At this point, we did a 10-year review of the Keck Institute that we gave to the Keck Foundation. We knew that the way we do our studies, no one else does. There's that. And we know that great ideas come out. But we also know that technical development is huge, but we can't do both. We don't have enough money to do both. We just don't see what's coming down the road. If we had to choose what we were going to do, it would have to be the studies.

ZIERLER: What about going back to the well? Do you go back to the Keck Foundation and say, "Can you re-up us?"

PRINCE: Caltech has a special relationship with the Keck Foundation. The decision about what the next big initiative is for the Keck Foundation is up to the administration.

ZIERLER: In a way that wasn't the case for the original arrangement?

JUDD: No, it was the same.

PRINCE: It was exactly the case for the original arrangement.

ZIERLER: Then why not redo it with Caltech?

PRINCE: But the original one, we had this campus faculty committee, and then after that committee met and reported out to administration, the administration said, "Okay, we're going to approach the Keck Foundation for this institute." Same rules apply the next time. We had a very good relationship with the Keck Foundation. But two things. One, the administration determines the next major initiative from the Keck Foundation for campus, and it's probably not going to be a continuation of the Keck Institute.

ZIERLER: How does this news come to you?

JUDD: We all knew. Because people kept coming back to us for funding. And we were like, "If we fund you again, we can't fund the next new idea." We get it.

PRINCE: The Keck Foundation also had that philosophy, and they were very interested in how the campus, Caltech, was going to do the continuation of the Keck Institute. They liked us, but their philosophy always was, "We invested in this. It was not an endowment."

ZIERLER: The seed-money approach.

JUDD: Yeah, right.

PRINCE: Yeah. Fairly generous seed money, eight years of it.

JUDD: Certainly more than what Kavli put in for the KITP.

ZIERLER: Do you go to Tom Rosenbaum? Do you tell him the strategic challenge at hand?

PRINCE: Yes. And there's now something, and we'd have to look up what date it was, that Jean-Lou put together, called the Space Innovation Council. It was a group of donors and so forth. The various divisions have advisory councils, chairs councils.

ZIERLER: Meaning that Keck has its own chairs council that's called this?

PRINCE: Yes. Except that now, the vacuum occurs. Jean-Lou is leaving, he's a lame duck. We don't have a new president on board yet.

ZIERLER: Obviously, with Ed Stolper as interim, this is not a priority?

PRINCE: The Space Innovation Council, for a couple years, was more the vehicle of getting funding for the divisions than it was for the Keck Institute.

JUDD: Absolutely. And Charles Elachi was chairing it with James Cameron.

ZIERLER: The famous movie director?

JUDD: Yeah. The first year, they received quite a bit of funding. They allowed faculty from each of the divisions to pitch ideas. They received funding, but none of it was for KISS.

PRINCE: That exacerbated the problem because there was no plan. Space Innovation Council was going to be Jean-Lou's vehicle. But then, when it was essentially turned over to the divisions, then there was no plan.

JUDD: We will never be any division's top priority. If you look at the history of joint institutes that have more than two divisions integrated with it, they inevitably either go down to one or two. But to have three, we're never going to be the top of any division's fundraising primary.

ZIERLER: It cuts both ways, how interdisciplinary Keck Institute is. It's going to be sort of divided accordingly.

PRINCE: Skipping forward a bit, I think I saw this, and maybe Fiona also saw this, but about three or four years ago, we developed much better relationships with the division chairs. We would meet with them quarterly. And things got back on track with the Space Innovation Council in that it no longer became a vehicle for the divisions to request money. At the same time, it produced a total of $1 million in five years of effort.

JUDD: With the president and the provost coming to every meeting. That's a lot of effort for a million dollars.

PRINCE: It just never worked. Development and Advancement thought the same way. It just didn't work.

ZIERLER: At the diciest moments, did you ever think about, "Maybe I've got to go back to JPL," or start a consulting business?

JUDD: No, I could've gone back to JPL. In fact, this weekend, I had another, "Well, if you're ready to come back to JPL, just let us know." [Laugh] From somebody who could make it happen.

ZIERLER: But as a stand-in for how shaky the Keck Institute became…

JUDD: Oh, no. We have to anchor it. Tom, I'm sorry for using this, but this is our baby. This is my baby. I left JPL to build this. This is the only reason I left.

ZIERLER: Failure's not an option.

JUDD: Exactly. The only reason I left is because I thought that we had the opportunity of having an impact on all of space exploration that I could not have had in my position at JPL. Or the multitude of offers I had at JPL, I just felt that this was where we could have the biggest impact. And I never at any point thought, "We are giving up on this." It was, "We are going to make this work."

ZIERLER: We've covered well all the reasons why it was so dicey financially. Here we are in 2023. What worked?

PRINCE: I wouldn't say it was dicey financially, I would say it was…

ZIERLER: There was not a clear solution for sustainable long-term operations.

PRINCE: Yes. But there was one factor in play here. First of all, I think the administration did support the existence of the Institute, and also, the division chairs did support it. It's just that there's a priority scheme for funding. And we could never get up to the top of that. But also, even if the division chairs and the administration were grumbling about us, which I don't think they were, it would've been untenable for Caltech to let the Institute disintegrate because of the fact the Keck Foundation put $24 million into it and was very interested in it continuing.

ZIERLER: It would not be a good look, as they say.

PRINCE: It would not be a good look. But having said that, I never got the feeling that was the major driver for it. What we then morphed into was, the general budget, which is under tremendous pressure, supports the Keck Institute. It does not support it at the level that it used to. In fact, the do part of the think-and-do, we can only do episodically.

JUDD: Which is not even possible anymore.

PRINCE: The core programs, the workshops, and the idea generation has been funded by Caltech.

JUDD: We can talk numbers. We got $3 million a year from the Keck Foundation for eight years.

ZIERLER: And then, it was zero.

JUDD: Yeah.

PRINCE: But not quite because you have to subtract off this bit for the building and whatnot.

JUDD: Right. But overall. And then, we cut the grad students, we cut the post-docs. Of the $3 million, $1.5 million was the do, then the other $1.5 million was all the study programs, the grad students, and the post-docs. But we didn't even have the $1.5 million. Now, budgets going forward is $800,000. This year, it'll be $850,000.

ZIERLER: Isn't there the obvious concern that without the do, this becomes a bloviating institute? How do you get around that?

PRINCE: We continuously articulate to division chairs and others that we would be much less effective without the do part.

ZIERLER: And this is ongoing messaging. You have to keep on making this case.

JUDD: Yes. But we do not have any funding for the do part. But people are still wanting to do the studies. Lots of people do studies. The way that we do studies forms tight-knit communities that stay together for years. And they propose together, they collaborate together. "I've got an ice core. Do you want part of this ice core?" And this does not happen at normal workshops, and Tom can tell you a little bit about this, where you have 30 people, you divide up the workshop. Everybody gets to talk, everybody gets their chance to pitch whatever they want. Hardly anybody gives a talk at a KISS workshop. We do a short course to get everybody with the same vocabulary, because we're all interdisciplinary. Every discipline gives their own 101. That serves to help everybody get to some fundamental floor that we can build on after that. And we talk about vocabulary so everybody knows what we're talking about. That, we do for every workshop. In the original proposal, they wanted the Caltech faculty to develop academic classes around each of the studies. That never happened. But we allowed anybody from campus, from JPL, from Carnegie, wherever that was close. If you want to come and learn during this half-day, everybody's invited.

ZIERLER: It's almost a different thing from just the think-and-do binary, there's an educational component now.

JUDD: Yes.

ZIERLER: Born of necessity, maybe.

PRINCE: Of necessity, that's the key thing. Once we came to five-day workshops, that was what worked because of people's time. Then, how do you get a grand idea in five days? If you have any slop, you're done for. One thing we found out early on is that, with this multidisciplinarity, people come in, and they're using the same term for two different meanings. The 101 courses are, in my mind, absolutely necessary to get everybody on the same page, so they can talk to each other and immediately. The 101 courses are typically the first morning, then already in the afternoon, they can move forward with a common vocabulary. Part of the backdrop here is really, how much social engineering there is that has developed over time to get a good idea in five days. A fundamentally new idea. Michele and I know very well, when we're in with a workshop, how things are going, whether or not they're on track to get to that point of idea generation on the fourth day.

ZIERLER: Was there an expectation from the Keck Foundation that the name would be part of the Institute in perpetuity?


ZIERLER: Could this become the Linde Center for Space Studies or whatever?

JUDD: Absolutely.

PRINCE: They were explicit about that.

JUDD: Yes, that is absolutely true. Yes, I would terrified somebody with the last name of Pilsner, Michelangelo, or something would–I was fine with a Blumenthal, but PISS and MISS, I just didn't want any of that. But no, they were very open. "We'd love it to continue. If it has to be another name, that's fine." Because they were always going to be the seed. In my opinion, I would be surprised if Caltech ever changed this from KISS.

ZIERLER: Because of the ongoing relationship.

JUDD: Because of the ongoing relationship. This place was dedicated not once, but twice to two different Kecks. And they have a big Keck monument out here. If they changed this, I would be surprised. It's possible, but I would be surprised.

ZIERLER: What about the breakthrough campaign of 2016? Are you a part of that?


ZIERLER: You really have to get creative in terms of how to keep this going.

PRINCE: Creative in the resources that we had. But fundraising at Caltech is pretty much centralized by Development and Advancement. If you're not on their priority list, it's difficult.

ZIERLER: Did you try to get on it?

PRINCE: Oh, yeah, we talked about it. We had the Space Innovation Council, where we talked about the needs of the Institute and everything, but never rose up there.

ZIERLER: For the first year where the $3-million spigot had turned off, what did that look like? What did you have in reserves, what was coming in new from the institute?

PRINCE: Basically, we slimmed down to what we call the core, which is the staff and the workshops.

ZIERLER: Did you have to let people go?


JUDD: It is the staff that put on the workshops. If you let go of the staff, you can't do the workshops. And they listened to us. We were ranked 13th in the US for best science and technology think tank. Rand is ahead of us. We have three FTE total. We're competing with all these other huge things. But the recognition of what we do–and there's a whole category for less than $5 million a year. They don't even consider us in that category because we were having so much impact in the science and technology community that they thought we were a big organization. We're very small. With the core, that's what it takes. It is the workshops and the staff. I will say that the post-docs and grad students talked to–we did events for them.

They talked to the faculty, and we ended up building the affiliates program, which just means that instead of us giving you money to do your one year of fellowship or the two years for the post-docs, you would be nominated by faculty in the division, and we would take two from each division. Once you're in–KISS is like Hotel California, you never leave, we tell that to everybody–we will do programming for you. Because we're not paying for all of that, but we will have Ed Stone come and have breakfast with you. We will have an astronaut come sit in here and have pizza with you. We will have the director of movies meet with you and go through what their thinking was with Stephen Hawking while they were filming this. We send them to Yuri's Night. Stuff that creates this camaraderie, this feeling of belonging and welcome. When they get picked–because we take all the nominations and pick two from each division–all the other ones, all the alumni come in on their welcoming in January to this elite group.

ZIERLER: Does KISS ever form strategic partnerships with adjacent organizations like Lou Friedman and the Planetary Society, for example? Is that all informal?

PRINCE: That's all informal.

ZIERLER: There are never any strategic discussions about partnering?

PRINCE: Lou was a frequent participant.

JUDD: He's led many KISS studies. We've partnered on public events, but not on studies.

PRINCE: A bit of context here is that probably if I had been the type of person who goes out and sells things, I probably could've found a donor. And that's one way to work within the Caltech system, that you go out and find a new person who hasn't donated to Caltech before and is not on their radar screen. You bring them in, and you get the credit. But I'm not that type of person. I don't go into sales mode.

ZIERLER: You're an astrophysicist!

PRINCE: It's not that. I know it when I see it, but I don't do it. [Laugh]

JUDD: And who knows? With Bethany as the new director, she's president of the Planetary Society right now. It's going to be up to her where she wants to lead the Institute next.

ZIERLER: The educational component, bringing people together, still organizing these fantastic studies, is the do happening elsewhere now? What does that look like?

PRINCE: Two parts to that. One is, JPL's still supporting the technical development programs with its R&TD program. As part of its call, you can propose to it for follow-up ideas for a Keck Institute study. JPL's okay. I think their level has come down, but still, they have the capability. And then, we look for opportunities to have different places where we could squirrel away some funds, then carry them forward until we've built up enough to be able to do a do for one specific program. There was also smaller amounts of funding that kind of were associated with the Space Innovation Council that we were asked to do the proposal evaluation and allocation of those. But those weren't directly related to Keck Institute studies.

ZIERLER: You mentioned JPL. What about hashing out all of the ideas so that was once a very nebulous and out-there concept becomes something that is finalized and formalized enough to become a NASA proposal, an NSF proposal? Is there also an outlet for what happens at the think level for the Keck Institute? Do we see that?

PRINCE: Certainly, JPL-ers view the Keck Institute as, again, a place where they can formulate new ideas. A lot of the proposals put into the Keck Institute are led by someone from JPL, who then get a campus person to go in with them. And then, they pursue their ideas. I think they see it as a vehicle. What doesn't happen is that campus itself doesn't invest in joint programs. We had a formal mechanism by which those joint programs would be jointly proposed up at JPL and simultaneously on campus with the do funds that we had as part of the Keck Foundation fund.

ZIERLER: When it became clear that by necessity, the Keck Institute's mission and capabilities were much more on the think side and less on the do side…

JUDD: We had to choose. It was Sophie's Choice, right? But we couldn't choose the do if we didn't have the think, and we only had money for one. And the do is incredibly important. Yes, they are taking it forward, and yes, people are proposing, but having the extra money to just get something started is so valuable. It accelerates how fast you can get into that…

ZIERLER: Even when the funds aren't there, and it's clear that Keck is not going to have the resources to bring it into the do stage, no one is coming here and getting together just for, "Let's throw around ideas." The question really is whether or not Keck can support it, the impetus for the conversations that happen at Keck happen under the assumption or hope that by hook or crook, somewhere, this is going to become a funded project. It will get to do, regardless of whether it's Keck to do it.

PRINCE: I think that's a hope. But I don't think that we get quite as vibrant proposals now.

ZIERLER: If people don't think that Keck can't follow through on the thought itself.

PRINCE: Exactly, yeah.

ZIERLER: That's a real challenge.

PRINCE: Right.

JUDD: I still think we get great ideas.

PRINCE: For instance, just recently, we had a climate continuity program. That's of high interest up at JPL. Definite implications in a very broad sphere for funding in that area. Of high interest to OSTP, of high interest to OMB. Of high interest to the National Space Council. I know all those personally because I've interacted with those people.

ZIERLER: But that's all external. What about the Resnick Institute, which is a grant-making machine now on campus? Can there be a Keck Institute Space Studies sustainability idea that will then be turned over or proposed to RSI, where it's still under the Caltech umbrella?

PRINCE: That might be a possibility. The Resnick Institute, from the ground up, was built very differently.

JUDD: And maybe I don't know enough about what Resnick is doing. You said they're a grant-funding machine. I don't know anything about that.

ZIERLER: The Resnicks gave an extraordinarily generous gift.

JUDD: I'm aware of the gift. But there's a building being built, there are lots of different things they're involved with. We've tried to partner with them in the past on a couple of things. They're great.

ZIERLER: Maybe there's something there to explore.

JUDD: Maybe there's something to explore. Sure.

PRINCE: Bethany will have more ability to do that being part of GPS. But Resnick is pretty much GPS, right?


PRINCE: EAS and GPS, but primarily, at least in my view, GPS.

JUDD: Well, it's headquartered in EAS.

ZIERLER: When COVID hit, what did that mean for the Keck Institute? How do you go from the bedrock of in-person meetings and all of the magic that can only happen there? Michele, you said even walking to the Athenaeum, and getting up, and meeting new people. All of a sudden, we're just tiles on a Zoom screen. What does that mean, amid all of the other challenges you have to work through?

JUDD: It was really hard to adapt, but we're incredibly focused on not losing our ability to provide a unique experience. We sent everybody in the study coffee and donuts in the morning, all over the world, wherever they were. Trying to get coffee and donuts to Moscow at the right time was–they got pizza lunches sent to them. We had multiple online ways of connecting. We had created our poster session in an online forum where people actually were little avatars, and they walked up to each poster, and they would look at the poster, engage with the person, and move to the next one, and so on. And we created fantastical rooms. One was a treehouse. We had a study on drought and trees, whether you could see it from satellites. We built this whole tree where the poster session was. You'd go to this branch, then the next branch, and you'd be seeing everybody's posters.

If you walked next to somebody, you'd start talking. We did all sorts of things. We had 15-minute water-cooler breaks. I always went to the science fiction room, but this one was the foodie room, this was the science fiction room, that was the outdoor room. Then, you'd split up, and you'd go talk about, "What's the greatest hike you've ever done?" It was specifically not work-related. It was specifically to get people to connect. And that's what we focus on, getting people to connect. You don't share your ideas if you don't trust the person, you don't like the person. But if you both agree about Dune, you talk about it, and you eventually come back to the work. But you're doing all sorts of, "I hated Harkonnen." "Yes, I did, too." You eventually come back. But that's what we do live. But creating these opportunities online–we were using multiple platforms. This did not go well with some of our people because they couldn't even get onto Zoom. We had to assign staff to sit with the person on the phone to get them into Zoom, then trying to get into some of our other collaborative spaces was…

ZIERLER: Did you become immediately a web-hosting guru?

JUDD: I didn't. I had somebody on staff, Kathleen, and she was incredible. I designed a great many of the rooms myself just because I'm capable of it, but she designed the entirety of how things would work. I said, "I want it to do this. I want it to do that. Here, I've designed this room." We had a secret dungeon that moved throughout the week. The team leads would say, "Meet you in the dungeon. We've got to talk about how to shut Jim up." Everybody would meet in the dungeon. They were the only ones who knew the secret things. We used to have little, "If anybody can find the scene of the crime here in the Keck Institute, you'll win something." When they won, we'd send them a prize in the mail. For instance, we had a painting of two crows. It was the attempted murder. It was fun. I built an entire Hogwarts. It was crazy. But people had fun. On the last day, they could bring their kids, their family, they could explore the entire thing. We had other people from Caltech borrowing the space we had built for their conferences. We're like, "Sure, we're not using it this week. Help yourself."

ZIERLER: Tom, what were your experiences?

PRINCE: One thing I did right away was, I wanted to put the stick in the sand that the Keck Institute was still open for business. I said, "We've got this problem. We're based all on personal interaction. Now, what do we do?" I said, "Well, let's get an intellectual focus for a new study that would engage people and grab them." I essentially invented a study and got the people to…

JUDD: I'm sorry, I know I'm going to embarrass you, but this was brilliant. Because to come right out of the gate with, "Let's use COVID-19 as the impetus for a study," it was brilliant. Tom was able to get people from headquarters, we got people from Goddard, we got people from–finish your story, I'm sorry. But I thought it was brilliant.

PRINCE: The idea was pretty simple. It said, "Okay, there's a time here where society is shutting down. Cars aren't on the roads anymore, factories aren't working. That has to have an impact on the environment. Let's quantify that impact on the environment, and let's put a quick study together, get everybody together to think. How can we take advantage of this? What kinds of instrumentation might we need to put in place in order to quantify it?" Because this is one of the few times when you can turn off the human input on the environment.

ZIERLER: And there's a core expertise on campus of atmosphere in chemistry. John Seinfeld, for example.

PRINCE: And up at JPL.

JUDD: And at JPL.

PRINCE: We immediately formed a new study that had not been proposed. We were affected by COVID, but we were going to use it to do interesting new science.

JUDD: And that was just the first one Tom came up with. The second one had to do with George Whitesides and the fire study we did during COVID as well. It was great.

PRINCE: Part of this was, before this, I think just about every study that we did, maybe not every study, was solicited. But we started thinking more about having, if you will, strategic proposals. They could arise from the steering committee. I thought up the wildfire one along with George, and the COVID impact one. But starting to think of a different way of doing Keck Institute studies.

ZIERLER: You leaned into the pandemic, as they say.

JUDD: Hard. And we had the staff lean in, too. The staff were designing rooms, they got their own place to be creative. Amazing. If there's one thing I think that helps make the Institute, it's the quality of the people working in the Institute. They give it their all.

ZIERLER: It sounds like the way you were articulating that this was your baby, you were not going back to JPL, you were going to make it work, this extends to the staff. This is true for everybody involved.

JUDD: Absolutely. It is. We even have a thing that everybody has above their thing. It's, "The KISS way." If one of us fails, we all fail. We are just as elite as the people that we welcome to the Institute. We have fun. We try new things every workshop. We try risky things. It's okay to fail. Just don't fail again. There's a whole list of, "This is who we are. This is what we do." Going back to the COVID study, in that study, because of the way that the groups all got put together, NASA headquarters was listening to Eric Kort, who happened to be a KISS prize post-doctoral fellow, who is now a professor at the University of Michigan, talking about, "This is the perfect time to fly an instrument over LA. We're not allowed to because NASA headquarters has shut down all flights due to COVID. Nobody knows if it's safe to be on the plane together." They're like, "We can do this. We know we can do this." They wrote up a safety plan, got it cleared through Armstrong, got the money from headquarters to do it, and they flew that instrument. They said, "You have three weeks to do this before people start ramping up again." "We've got to do this." Having all those people in the same room listening enabled it. We had subgroups. It was great.

PRINCE: Also, to launch this quick response program then started to give us, then, the experience about doing a KISS-style remote workshop. All the avatars and all that came eventually.

JUDD: Afterwards, not for this one.

PRINCE: But it thrust us into saying, "How do we do a remote workshop and make it uniquely KISS?"

ZIERLER: There were some aspects of the forced response to COVID that were so successful, they're worth hanging onto even in a post-pandemic world.


ZIERLER: That never would've been embraced had you not needed to.

PRINCE: I think, for instance, this idea of not just responding to solicited proposals, but also initiating ourselves activities or programs, that germinated there. We had done that maybe a little bit before.

JUDD: We had. Like, geoengineering was certainly something you saw in the future before anybody at Caltech even saw it.

PRINCE: Yeah, so that was the first foray. This was a geoengineering study back in the first few years. But I hadn't sort of internalized it yet as, "We need to do this on a continuing basis."

ZIERLER: Because you're joined at the hip and create this together, when you both start to think about retirement, emeritus, stepping back, are these conversations that happen together? Is one of you responding to the other?

JUDD: We definitely talked about it for several years before I retired.

PRINCE: Yeah. One thing is that pretty much if you look at my history, about every 10 years, I go someplace different. Remember, we started this in 2004 with the whole committee, and it's getting to be 2019, 2020, etc.

JUDD: And COVID, you can't leave in COVID.

ZIERLER: And you have to leave it so that it's strong enough for the next leadership.

PRINCE: Right. this was one thing I talked about with Fiona, the principal division chair. I actually recommended that Caltech start thinking about, "There should be a new director here."

JUDD: Well, then I got cancer.

PRINCE: Also, you would've not wanted me to step down.

JUDD: Yeah, I wanted him to stay as long as possible because I knew what we had together is special. I felt that this relationship, of which two such incredibly different people could come together and build on our strengths, the strengths of the team, and even the team adds so much to the Institute. They're all so unique, but they all have the same values. They have that soup-to-nuts, whatever it takes. They're creative, and they're smart, and I cannot say enough about how good the team is.

ZIERLER: Absent the diagnosis, did this reorient your timeline? Was this too early for you?

JUDD: Yeah. I would've probably gone back to JPL.

ZIERLER: Meaning that you've built it together, you decide together it's time for a new generation of leadership, and absent getting sick, you still have a career ahead of you.

JUDD: Oh, yeah. I probably would've gone back to JPL. I don't think there was anything at campus that would have helped me do what I wanted to do. But then, getting sick–and even then, I'm like, "Going to get through this." And then, the drug regimen, the after-treatment drug regimen just took me to my knees. And I was like, "I am not healthy. I've got to take care of myself."

ZIERLER: Are emeritus and the leadership at Caltech decoupled? Can you go emeritus and retain the same affiliation with the Keck Institute?

PRINCE: Yes, because I was the odd bird of being half-emeritus. Because I was emeritus for Physics, Math, and Astronomy, but my appointment in the leadership chair–by the way, that leadership chair partially funds the Institute–I was not emeritus for. I'm now emeritus for that chair. But I became emeritus for the Ira S. Bowen Physics Chair a little bit over two years ago. I was this odd bird of being, in some sense, formally half-emeritus. But it didn't make any difference to me. I just continued to do what I've always done.

ZIERLER: The leadership state of play now is that Professor Bethany Ehlmann is your successor. But there is no executive director. There's still a search?

JUDD: They finished the interviews Friday.

ZIERLER: Are you involved at all?

JUDD: No, I'm the past. I feel that Bethany needs to have her vision. She's been part of KISS for a long time, she knows how it works, she understands the value of it. She's different than Tom and I. Any new person's going to be different, and it's still going to be great. It's just going to be different.

ZIERLER: Collectively, what have you handed off to Bethany? What are the strengths for her to build on, what are the strategic challenges that she needs to consider that you have dealt with up until this moment of transition? We'll start with strengths.

JUDD: I think together, with the team, I will say all of us–even though Tom and I are a partnership, without the team, we just couldn't do what we do. I feel like we have left an institute that is 15 years of excellence with processes already in place that we know worked. We tried so many things. When people leave a KISS workshop, they are like, "We've got to take this elsewhere." We're in the process of making other workshops better.

ZIERLER: Imitation is the highest form of flattery.

JUDD: Exactly. We had somebody from Alabama, "You have ruined me for all other workshops." [Laugh] And every time they go, I'll get an email like, "Oh, I wish you guys had been running this workshop." [Laugh] Or you go somewhere, and it's like, "KISS would never do anything like this." It's very interesting.

ZIERLER: Maybe there's a franchise option here where you can maintain that control. [Laugh]

JUDD: But I will say we've left processes, we know how to do things. The opportunity is to, every year, make it better and to adapt. And maybe there's an opportunity to partner with industry more. There's definitely a fundraising opportunity, without a doubt. That's going to be a challenge, but it's also going to be an opportunity. I think the team that we've left behind are beyond gold. They can make whatever the vision is happen. I feel we've left with a good foundation, processes, people, and now it's time to look at what can be done a little bit differently and improved. Tom, what are you thinking?

PRINCE: Very much so, those same thoughts. We are still, I think, one of the very few, if not the only, enabling institutions on campus. That's part of our legacy. I think the Keck Institute is different. Being different has its own challenges, but having an institution that enables faculty and JPL to be even better at what they want to do is sort of the core idea. And I think that's the main thing that we leave going forward. There are lots of opportunities. Certainly, I, as Director, would've started going into that. One of the big things is that space exploration is dramatically different now in 2023 than it was in 2008.

ZIERLER: It's an accelerated timeline in terms of all the advances.

PRINCE: Not only that, but civilian space is probably comparable to what's called federal or government space in terms of where the impact is going to be. All the new space companies and all that. What I certainly was seeing was a real change in focus to really start figuring out how to engage with the commercial side of space. Ideas that I had but didn't necessarily launch were things like having a study that was just with one of the entrepreneurial space companies, focused on perhaps scientific uses of that capability from commercial space and how to do that.

ZIERLER: Have you ever talked to Elon Musk? He was briefly affiliated with Caltech, I wonder if there are any points of connection there.

PRINCE: Yes. In fact, for a while, I was emailing him. Pretty amazing. It didn't matter what time of the day or night, I'd email him and get a response back immediately. As far as I could tell, he never slept. But that was a very specific interaction in that what we wanted to do was get together a group from Caltech, students, post-docs, faculty, to go visit SpaceX, and we did that. He was our host.

JUDD: One of the most uncomfortable moments I have ever had was sitting in that room with Elon at the front, and somebody asked him something about exploring Mars with humans. He said, "Let me think about it." Three minutes of silence. For an extrovert, I died a thousand deaths. I'm like, "Is he even going to say anything?" And three minutes is a lot of time. And he had no problem just thinking in front of 60 people, no desire to fill the space. He was thinking. And I'm just like, "What?" [Laugh]

ZIERLER: I hope it was worth the wait.

JUDD: I don't even remember because I was so freaked out, by the time he talked, I was like…

PRINCE: It was quite amazing. My own opinion is that, over time, he has gone further and further afield from rational thinking. But maybe not because one of the things he started off with in the talk, I remember, is he said, "The first thing I tried to do in the space business was buy old Russian ICBMs so I could launch plants to Mars to start terraforming it." Then, he said, "I couldn't get that to work, so I started my own company." [Laugh]

ZIERLER: He has his ideas, there's no question about it.

PRINCE: The other thing that impressed me about that was, we then get onto the floor of SpaceX, and it's very clear that he had hired many automotive people because what he wanted to do was…

JUDD: Assembly.

PRINCE: He saw cars as a place where you have to mass produce lots of things with a very low failure rate. That was also central to building SpaceX. With SpaceX, I sort of lost track of Elon, and I wasn't in his email list anymore. But Garrett Reisman was a connection we eventually built up with the Keck Institute for the SpaceX connection.

JUDD: I think we failed to mention one of the things that Tom and I feel so strongly about is the Keck Institute's impact on early-career people will be one of what I feel our biggest impacts will be. We've had projects that, from the do project, $100 million from NASA. Asteroid retrieval mission. $20 million for single-photon detectors that came in from a think-and-do project. All of these amazing things. But for us, the combination of our graduate students and post-docs feeling that, "Oh, I got to hang out with Garrett." "Oh, I got to go to JPL and see this," or wherever we take them. Building that cohort of future space-exploration leaders, they will always feel connected to each other, they call each other. We have people from 2008 who come back for the reunion to welcome the new people. It is this network of people that will stay connected. In addition to that, for every single study that we have, every workshop, we have six of the 30 people must be graduate students or post-docs. They're like, "Oh my God, yours is the paper that I based my thesis on. And yours is the one that"–and for a week, they get to sit, drink, eat, talk, show them their poster, do their thing. I truly, truly think they will look back and say, "That was an inflection point in my career." Is that fair, Tom?

PRINCE: Oh, yeah, absolutely. The other thing is the Caltech Space Challenge, which we instigated by funding students to come up with ideas. And they proposed back to use the Caltech Space Challenge. That also brings an international group of future leaders together to network, be introduced to people here at JPL and Caltech. I think that also is going to have a lot of impact. We won't be able to chart it, but I wouldn't be surprised if the future direction of space exploration is changed just because of the Caltech Space Challenge.

ZIERLER: Now, moving onto the challenges. Are they more or less the same as what you started to deal with once the well ran dry from Keck, not having that $3-million infusion on an annual basis?

PRINCE: Yeah. That's a continuing challenge. And Bethany and I have discussed that. The fundraising is a continuing challenge. Also, as the pressure on the general budget has increased, that extra fundraising becomes even more important.

ZIERLER: And just as the way you were saying you're not necessarily a salesman, if Bethany feels like she is, there's a potential endowment to be secured if it's a priority for her.

PRINCE: Right. And it should be a priority for her, if she feels that she can do that.

ZIERLER: Are all of these new and interesting remote pivots you made an asset going forward in terms of the funding? You can do interesting things without necessarily the expense of every meeting being in person. Or we're now reaching a broader network of people, and that might include potential benefactors. Is there an asset from all of the ways that you pivoted in the pandemic that might help address the strategic challenge after the funding from Keck left?

JUDD: I think it's a possibility. I feel like we did the best we could during COVID, and I still think we did better than many, many, many other things that people did.

ZIERLER: It could've all fallen apart.

JUDD: It could have. But people were desperate for connection.

ZIERLER: And they were desperate for connection that you and Tom had already built.

JUDD: And the team.

ZIERLER: It probably, in some ways, even was more acute during the pandemic.

JUDD: Yeah. And it was great because we even had bring your pet to the breakout room. Somebody brought their turtle. Somebody brought their five dogs, and they just wanted to show off their dogs doing their tricks. But it was just giving them the opportunity to be with other people. But because, online or not, 30 is the right number, it is very hard to have some of the conversations we have in person online. We did the best we could, but the gold standard is still going to be the in-person experience. It's a possibility to look into. Again, with the team and Tom, we built what we have today, so it's good to have me out. Just because I can't see that as a viable opportunity to explore doesn't mean that it's not a fantastic idea. It's just not the DNA that's currently in the Institute. That was a mutation.

ZIERLER: Are you feeling good? Is there a career ahead of you? Or you're going to embrace retirement now?

JUDD: I can't really project much right now. My sister's been diagnosed with an incurable cancer.

ZIERLER: That's your focus.

JUDD: Well, my own health is my focus, too. I just can't quite seem to leave here yet. [Laugh] But I'm working on it. I've given myself the grace of two years to kind of get the same thing that we've done with the Institute, build on some foundations of behaviors, coming back and revisiting, continuing to rebuild. I just can't quite get into it because I'm in, I'm out, I'm in, I'm out. [Laugh] And like I said, my sister, two to five years, so who knows what that's going to be like. But I'm certainly going to be not focused on work if I don't have to be for that.

ZIERLER: You can be focused when you want to. When it's interesting. It's your choice.

JUDD: I wrote a note and said, "I'm happy to stay on as soon as you onboard someone, and then I'm going to be off in December, and then I'm done." Because it's so hard to cut the cord. If I stayed connected, I would still feel this–but if I actually just stop–and Tom was brilliant. When I retired, he goes, "The very next day, leave." And the very next day, I left, and it was the best 10 days in I can't even remember how long because I actually felt untethered. I've not felt untethered forever. Then, it was, "Well, we may need you for this workshop." [Laugh] It all just kind of started crashing. [Laugh] It was fine, and I'm happy to do it because it's my baby, and I want it to live. It would still be great, but I want to be able to say, "Here's the end. A new sheriff is in town."

ZIERLER: You still have an office that you have to clean out.

JUDD: I've been doing a box at a time. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: Let's go now to the retrospective questions, putting it all together. When you think back on all of the programs, all of the brilliant ideas, all of the thinking, all of the things that happened as a result, drawing on your technical expertise as well as your people expertise, what stands out in your memory as the most invigorating? You got people together, there were ideas that were produced, and you were just overcome with whatever the right word is, pride, excitement, satisfaction, that this buzz would not have happened had you not put this crazy project together. What's right at the top?

JUDD: I have to say, that's a little hard because you will think that a team is going to go crush it, and they've got a really good chance, and then it kind of doesn't quite…

ZIERLER: Even before we get to what came of it. I'm talking about in the moment, when the people are talking, when they're at the whiteboard, where they're going back and forth. What were those ideas? What were the issues? Just in getting them to talk, regardless of what came from it, where you just looked at, "Wow, look at all these brilliant people having all these brilliant ideas." It's, like, the purest form of academia, just getting people to reach their potential and think the best, most useful and exciting things they can do.

JUDD: That's hard for me to answer because there are moments that sit in my mind. We just had a study on fast-response missions, and we had two of the team leads, Mike Brown and Jim Bell, who stood up and kicked off their section with, "We have done KISS studies before, and we know this is career-changing. We know from our experience. We are both on the Lucy mission because of our involvement with other studies. We bring you together knowing that something good"–and then I'm just like–because now everybody's paying attention. I think over time, seeing more and more repeat people to KISS that come back. If they never come back, then there's just such a huge community that we're pulling from new areas. But they come back, and they want more. And every time I see team leads or other people that come back, they come in and can't wait to come back. They're like, "I have been waiting for this. I've been looking forward to it. It is science camp for me for a week. I get to think new thoughts, I get to collaborate with people who are passionate about what I am passionate about." There are just moments like that that you look back, and it's like, "Oh my gosh, we have done something special."

ZIERLER: This is a composite answer, you're not focusing on one plenary or project.

JUDD: It is for me because it just builds every year.

PRINCE: Yeah. And I think there are many circumstances where we get into a study, and then probably on about the third day, you'll all of a sudden say, "Yeah, this group now has it." You can just tell. It's the interactions of everybody in the room, everybody's engaged, they're enthusiastic, they're contributing. It doesn't happen every single study, but when it does happen, you kind of just know it. And I think we've seen it happen lots of times. But then, you take somebody like Harry Atwater, who comes into a study kind of saying, "Well, what is this?" and goes away and says, "Oh, this is the best experience I've had since graduate school." All of a sudden, here's a new person that comes in and experiences it for the first time, and you that yeah, we created something really special here.

JUDD: I remember specifically, we had a team lead come in, and she was like, "I'm doing this for my JPL colleague. I have some ideas, but I'm not going to share them because I feel like everybody has run off with my ideas. Every workshop I go to, people take the stuff and run away with it." And by day three, she's like, "Okay, everybody, here's my idea." [Laugh] She can't help it because she feels supported, she feels like she can trust these people. We have done a lot of work to make them engage with each other on a personal level, on a professional level, that it's like, you now know, you have the opportunity to get your idea out there and to see if there are people behind you. Same thing I felt like when Bruce Banner called and said he was selected for Insight. He brought that idea. This did not come up from KISS. The seismology study that we did in 2009, that didn't come out of that. He had thought about it many, many times and proposed it. But when he presented it, he had 24 world experts and six young guns who were like, "Ooh. Did you think about this? Did you think about that? What about this? What about that?" And it was considered the best science case for a mission that had been written to date. And he personally has said in lectures, "I might've been selected, but I sure wouldn't want to try it without having gone through that KISS study." [Laugh]

ZIERLER: Let's move to impact now. And that's a loaded term, it can mean lots of different things. There's fundamental research, what we've learned about space, broadly conceived, that wouldn't have been possible, there's translation, there have been ideas that have turned into technologies that are helping humanity now, and then there's the tech transfer, ideas that have now been embraced by industry because there's money to be made here. Maybe in those three broad categories, what are some real success stories that you can absolutely reverse engineer to a proposal, a plenary, and what came after?

PRINCE: I think there's monetary impact. We did a review of follow-on funding that resulted directly from Keck Institute studies. We did that 2018, 10 years. What came out of that was–how many million?

JUDD: $200 million.

PRINCE: At that point. By now, we're probably up to about $250 million. Here's an initial investment from the Keck Foundation of $24 million, which we've turned into $250 million of funding coming into JPL or externally. That's one quantitative measure of impact. But I think you're asking for others. The asteroid return mission was one where we almost got a major several-billion-dollar mission into NASA for adoption. That would've really changed exploration. That would've been really a landmark.

JUDD: But lots of the technology that came out of that idea of capturing an asteroid–it started out as capturing an asteroid and bringing it to the ISS, and the people from Houston were like, "Oh, hell, no." And then, it turned into, "Let's bring the asteroid back and put it in cislunar orbit." And then, it's like, "Oh, that's cool. We could do that. Then, we could send astronauts to it, and we could practice on it, we could practice our mining." There were a lot of things that came out of it. The planetary scientists were just mad they were not included, so they made sure that everybody knew they were not included, and they should've been included. But there were six NASA centers in that one, and it showed that we had the pull to bring in six NASA centers to talk about an idea that was interesting and aligned with the president's vision, and a lot of the technology that came out of that is now being used elsewhere on other missions. But that was huge. That really put us on the map. I felt like that was the first, like, giddy-up.

PRINCE: That was one. Insight was another. Also, as far as science goes, first in situ dating of a rock on Mars. That was very interesting. I would also put, although it's still evolving, the wildfire tracking. That's still having echoes throughout the administration, so that's interesting.

JUDD: And then, Trailblazer.

PRINCE: I think the climate continuity study is going to have impact because that's a big issue. We know that there's a lot of interest on how the US should position itself relative to other countries to carry out the climate continuity agenda. Those are just a few.

JUDD: Yeah. But ARM really made the splash that was heard 'round the solar system.

ZIERLER: Let me upend the premise of the previous question that might suggest that it's only worthwhile if it has impact. What have you learned about the value of failure? In just bringing people together with very nascent ideas to discuss and hash them out, and nothing comes out of it where you can point to concrete success, but the scientific method is built on failure, weeding out, the free expression of ideas, just throwing darts at the wall. What have you learned about the value of failure?

JUDD: One, I will say, we were never shy to fail. We picked some crazy things to try. We said if we were not failing in 1 out of 12, we were not pushing hard enough, not at the edge. I will say, from an engineering process standpoint, I certainly learned how to maximize the opportunity for success with processes. The team leads would say, "Okay, we're good to go. We're going to present out our vision." I used to let them do it. I don't let them do it anymore because we had a couple studies where team lead number one stood up and presented the vision, and team lead number two stood up and said, "No, this is the vision." Then, team lead number three stood up like, "You're both wrong." [Laugh] Now, we hash all of that out ahead of time. We've got processes that we've learned from failing in certain areas. There are some things that no matter what we do, for whatever reason–we had one study where we had a team lead, and Tom was like, "You sure you want this team? This external team lead is–I've heard rumors." I'm like, "What are we going to do? Do we just let this person come in? Do we not let them come in?" It was a very tough decision. We ended up saying, "Okay, let's try it," and it did not go well. It did not go well.

ZIERLER: But it was a learning experience.

JUDD: It was. And that whole bolometer thing was a learning experience because Tom basically said, "You have to have somebody that disagrees with you or thinks another thing. You can't have all of your converts. How do you have good ideas without good discourse?" That particular study took a very long time for the final report to come out, but it was excellent because they all agreed. The entire group agreed, bolometers have this niche. MMICs have this niche. It was only by having that discussion that they found out, "Oh, now we can carve up the proposal space, and we know that this is theirs, this is theirs, and we're great." We had one time that was an in situ resource utilization, and they did not want to invite the top NASA person. And Tom's like, "Yeah, you need to invite the top NASA person." "Well, he's just going to say no." "You still have to invite him." They're like, "Okay, we'll invite him." They invite him, and he says no. And then, Tom and I talked, and Tom wrote this amazing letter. It said, "Dear Jerry. We understand you're not coming, but you have so much to add from the history of doing this. There is no one like you. Think of it as helping the early generation understand the challenges that have been"–this whole thing. Jerry's like, "Fine, I'll come." He comes, and he gets converted and is the number-one supporter of the ISRU.

ZIERLER: This is a theme of converts I'm seeing here.

JUDD: But without that kind of thoughtful notion that you need people to convert–if you can't convert him, you're not going to be able to convert anybody. If your idea's not good enough, that's on you. It's one thing to invite someone who's just going to stab you no matter what, but if it's somebody really interested in moving the field forward–and he probably doesn't even remember writing that damn letter.

PRINCE: No, I don't. [Laugh]

ZIERLER: Tom, reflections on failure.

PRINCE: One thing is that we aim very high. In some sense, let's say the asteroid return mission–we're always failing compared to that. But I would say that thanks to Michele, maybe there was one program that really didn't work, but every one of our programs, the people feel so good about it, even if they haven't reached the pinnacle of the new idea, that they go back from there energized, feeling good about the whole experience, having a new view on what a workshop could be. There's no one failure, there are just degrees of excellence. We've often said to the staff, "Even if we are operating at an 80% level, we're still way above the normal." And I think people who come to our workshops, even if they don't achieve that pinnacle of the new idea, which, in some sense, is technically a failure on our part, it's beneficial.

ZIERLER: It's a necessary part of the process.

JUDD: And they have learned a lot. Because when it's interdisciplinary, you learn a lot about mission planning, you learn about orbital dynamics, you will learn a lot, and you go back with this appreciation of why engineers and scientists should be talking to each other. You go back with an appreciation for all of these other disciplines that impact your idea, and you didn't even know it.

ZIERLER: This grand quest to conceptualize campus and Lab, and not the separate entities of Caltech and JPL, assuming there's value in that for both organizations, for both aspects of one organization, where has the Keck Institute moved the needle for that?

PRINCE: Oh, I think it's definitely moved the needle in that you heard about JPL-ers' standard view of campus. Now, I think that JPL is as strong or stronger than campus as far as wanting the success of the Keck Institute, wouldn't you say?

JUDD: Yeah, I would agree with that.

PRINCE: That really moves the needle. Plus, all the interactions it informed. Also, GPS.

JUDD: I would say that's the biggest area.

PRINCE: I think before we were around, there was almost a bit of antagonism, if not just disrespect. Now, we have Ken Farley being project scientist on the Mars mission from JPL.

ZIERLER: How far really can you get in planetary science without the rocketry and instrumentation to go there? [Laugh] That's what GPS needs.

PRINCE: You can do it. You can just use the results and think great things. And that's what the mode was. You were asking about bringing JPL and campus closer together. I think we did move the needle on that very substantially.

JUDD: Yeah, I do think that there are many at JPL, some people here today, who, once having come to KISS, feel like they have a home on campus. "Oh, I've got a meeting with a faculty member. I'm going to come over and hang out at KISS, meet with them, do some work, and follow up." I feel that faculty come here a lot, I'm not going to say to hide from their grad students, I'll say to get quiet time in a place they know that they can work on ideas and just think. We've had faculty have sabbaticals in the Keck Institute. [Laugh] But for JPL, we'll get this call, "We can't get somebody on Lab. Can we please have the building?" And if we have it, we have saved the day for them. Or, "We want to have a retreat over here to just talk about the next decadal for ultraviolet something or other." "Sure, come on over."

ZIERLER: These are all good things.

JUDD: Yeah. Chris Martin and Shouleh Nikzad did a study on delta detectors, which are going to be used for UVEX. If UVEX goes…

ZIERLER: This was part of it.

JUDD: It was a small part of it. You ask Shouleh, and she's like, "Yep." [Laugh]

ZIERLER: I'll ask one more question that's very specific to your partnership, then we'll end looking to the future. For the Myers-Briggs chart, however we quantify different personality types, the unique circumstances of your partnership and how this all came together can never be replicated. But what are the takeaways from your unique personalities and this incredible partnership that you've built? What can we learn from that in terms of two very different people, very different personalities, different worldviews, coming from different places, yet look what you've done together?

JUDD: For me, I'm an extrovert, and I can't think without my lips moving, when you have a partner who's committed to success, whatever it takes to make that happen, and you have ideas that are not fully formed, and you're safe just throwing them out there, you know that you value each other's opinions, and that you may not agree. There are some things I have absolutely not agreed, but once we decided, it was our decision. I don't go behind and grumble. We decide.

ZIERLER: You own it together.

JUDD: We own it together. It's the same thing. He's a big-picture person. I say crazy, but you can use whatever word you like. It sits with me, then I come back five days later, two weeks later, two months later, "Okay, here's what we can do. We can make that work." Then, sometimes, I lay out like, "This is why we need to do it this way," and he's like, "No." Then, he comes back, and he's like, "Okay, maybe we'll do this." [Laugh] I just feel like you've got to respect the person, you've got to lean into the strengths. The whole reason you have two completely different people is–and you've got to trust their wheelhouse. The first time, I was like, "We're going to throw things at our participants." "Wait, what? What are you saying?" "We have these Koosh balls, and we're going to have people self-police. If you're late, you get Koosh-balled. If you're caught doing email, you get Koosh-balled. If your phone goes off in the meeting, you get Koosh-balled." And then, we would have the most senior person in the room, on day one, stand at the front, "Everybody, practice your Koosh balls now." Because if you can throw a Koosh ball at someone like Margy Kivelson, Firouz Naderi, Charles Elachi, you can certainly pipe up and say something at some point. You laugh, you're like, "What am I doing?" and it changes the whole feeling of the room. It's like, "Wow, we really can challenge." And Tom was like, "I need to think about this. I need to think about"–[Laughs]

PRINCE: Yeah, then, I was totally on board. Because if you think about it, if a graduate student throws a Koosh ball at the JPL director, asking him a question is not a big deal because they've just thrown something at them. It really works. You asked about the takeaways for our partnership. If you can find a person that is very different from you, but you respect them and respect how they think, even though it's very different from how you think, then bringing those two things together is extremely powerful.

ZIERLER: It has to be built on trust.

JUDD: Absolutely.

PRINCE: It has to be built on trust. But also, there are things that I am totally incapable of that Michele is just excellent at.

JUDD: And vice versa. [Laugh]

PRINCE: Actually, not quite as much. But I am not an extrovert, I am not a person who can put all the human interactions together. I value that, but I'm not that type of person. I'm more of an introvert. If you can find that place where there's someone who really complements your abilities, and you trust them and can build a working relationship with them, good things can happen.

JUDD: And it can be uncomfortable. But eventually, it becomes more comfortable because you just keep leaning and pushing, and you learn more about each other. And you learn more about yourself. I've grown so much just from the way that we interact, or we talk about how we make decisions, or how I interpret something, and he's like, "I don't see that at all. Here's how I interpret it." It's like, "I just would never have thought of that."

PRINCE: If you can disagree with someone and feel secure in disagreeing with them, so it's not just being at each other, but disagree with them, then you think about it, that's when good things happen. That's also, by the way, almost mirrored in the Keck Institute. If we bring people together who disagree on something, and they can come to a civil agreement, that's when really good things happen.

ZIERLER: Let's end looking to the future. The Keck Institute is now looking at a new chapter in its history. New director, soon a new executive director. You're both around, right? Physically, emotionally, you're here. Because of what you've built, I can't imagine you're not emotionally invested in continuing to root for the very best for the Keck Institute. My question is, do you want to be a part of it informally as a consultant? Do you want to be asked questions? Or because you're so emotionally invested in it, or because you think it's the right way of doing business, do you want to maybe be around and be aware, but may not be part of those conversations?

JUDD: I always thought I would be a part. I always thought I would have my finger in it somewhere. But recently, [Laugh] I've just come to the conclusion that my baby is a teenager, and I've done the best I can, and it's hard for me to not be in. And it's hard for me to just have this. Even when I'm walking around today, I'm like, "Oh my God." [Laugh] I have to just step back. I have to just, I think, let it grow from here. I will never not be interested. Your baby is your baby, even when it's 50, as my mother tells me. [Laugh] Your baby is your baby, it doesn't matter. But for me to stay in even just a little bit is for me to stay all in.

ZIERLER: That means that even if you see a big problem, you'll bite your tongue?

JUDD: I don't think I would be close enough to see a big problem. Unless there was something that was so big. I know Bethany very well. I assume that I will know the executive director in some capacity.

PRINCE: It was Michele's last day, her last hour. We got together at the Hayman Lounge to talk.

JUDD: It was hour last hour.

PRINCE: No, I had the next day.

JUDD: Oh, that's true. You had one more day.

PRINCE: But in any case, it was psychologically hour last hour. My perspective on this is that, and we talked it over, we both feel really good about what we did. My perspective is, "Yeah, that was a great thing." There are few things where I feel almost unequivocally have been really good things. I can almost walk away from it. I don't need to be associated with it. If I'm of use, if they want my wisdom, yeah.

JUDD: If they need something, I'm always going to come.

PRINCE: But I'm pretty good at, "Well, I've got the next thing." The next thing for me was very pressing, which was this big NSF study. My basic feeling is, "Yeah, this was really, really special." And I've talked to the staff about this. The Keck Institute is special. It's one of those things that happens rarely. That's something to be very thankful and grateful for.

ZIERLER: And proud of.

JUDD: Absolutely.

PRINCE: Working with Michele, being able to put it together, everything we went through, my feelings are all good about it. And to some extent, I'm open to whatever happens. Bethany and I sat down a couple weeks ago, and she wanted to see my perspective on things. Yeah, that's fine. But I don't need to do that for myself. That's kind of where I'm coming from.

JUDD: I remember when I left the Hayman Lounge, I felt, "We have done great things together. We have left a legacy that I'm proud of."

PRINCE: And it's rare to be able to do that. To create something new is really rare.

ZIERLER: Michele, I want to thank you for letting me convince you to do this, and for having the foresight to insist that Tom needed to be a part of it.

JUDD: It's just that we've been partners. The story is not my story, it's our story.

ZIERLER: My concern, where I thought we should do this one-to-one, that it was your show, and that's what it should be, but you clearly had more wisdom in how this should go than I did, and to bring Tom along, which is a special treat for me for all the time we've spent together, there's a whole other aspect that basically, all of this is new to me. This is not really repeated from even the multiple sessions that we had together. So I want to thank you both. It was really remarkable.

PRINCE: Well, thank you. And thank you for all you do for Caltech.