Maria Zuber: Science Is Key for the U.S. to Compete

The female space pioneer talks about the importance of innovation.

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Maria Zuber never doubted that her future would be among the stars; her mother remembers little Maria jumping with excitement in her playpen every time she saw a rocket launch on TV.

Now, Zuber, a professor of geophysics at MIT, is one of the first two women to lead a major planetary mission for NASA. That mission, which launches in 2011, will shoot two remote-controlled spacecraft to orbit the moon, where they will study its gravity for clues to the moon's origins.

This mission is just the most recent of many other space explorations that Zuber has worked on, including missions to study Mars and Mercury.

Space exploration isn't a frill in these days of tight federal budgets, Zuber says. "In this country, what has made us great is our ability to innovate and our ability to take on challenges. With the work I do, many kids get interested in careers in science and technology. Which are fields and training that our country really needs to be competitive."

U.S. News contributing editor Nancy Shute talked with Zuber about her role as a pioneering woman in space exploration, and how her two sons say that attending rocket launches is neat, but the best thing about the Kennedy Space Center is that it's close to Disney World.

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The U.S. News podcast series, Leadership for the Next Decade, explores the ideas, innovations, and solutions that will inspire America for the future.

Moderated by U.S. News Editor Brian Kelly, the podcasts feature exclusive interviews with leaders across the spectrum, from education, business, art, science, and medicine to government, public service, and philanthropy.