Alan Stern
Planetary Scientist, Commercial Astronaut, Leader of NASA's New Horizons Mission to Pluto, Author, and Speaker

Dr. Alan Stern is a celebrated planetary scientist and space program executive, who was selected by NASA in 2020 to be its first commercial suborbital researcher astronaut in space. Alan’s first spaceflight took place on Virgin Galactic on November 2, 2023. A second flight is planned for 2024.

He led NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, one of the most significant and impactful space projects in history. This $1 billion exploration of Pluto, and the Kuiper Belt beyond it, is the farthest exploration in history and involved more than 26 years of work.

Dr. Alan Stern’s career in space exploration is extensive and features more than 25 years in space mission development and a stint in Washington, D.C. as NASA’s Chief of All Science Missions, where he oversaw all of NASA’s $5B/year science research, education, and public outreach budget. His term was characterized by innovative management reforms that saved taxpayers billions. For his work, Stern has been recognized with many awards, including the Sagan Medal. He was twice-named to the Time 100 list of most influential people.

Currently, he is a Vice President at the Southwest Research Institute, the largest nonprofit R&D house in the US. He is also co-founder and Chief Exploration Officer at World View Enterprises, an edge-of-space ballooning company. He is also a member of the US National Science Board. His consulting practice includes clients like Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. 

Dr. Stern is the author of several books, including most recently 2018’s Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto. He is a commercial pilot and flight instructor and a former NASA F-18 Hornet high altitude researcher.

In 2022 he participated as a mission specialist aboard a submersible dive expedition to the RMS Titanic. That was the last successful dive to the Titanic before the 2023 tragedy aboard the submersible Titan.

Dr. Stern is a prolific public speaker who has given over 100 presentations to audiences ranging from business conventions to corporate conclaves and executive retreats and from universities to science festivals and cruise ships. You can follow Dr. Stern on Twitter or visit his personal website here.

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Chasing New HorizonsInside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

On July 14, 2015, more than 3 billion miles from Earth, a small NASA spacecraft called New Horizons screamed past Pluto at more than 32,000 miles per hour, focusing its instruments on the long mysterious icy worlds of the Pluto system, and then, just as quickly, continued on its journey out into the beyond. Nothing like this has occurred in a generation—a raw exploration of new worlds unparalleled since NASA’s Voyager missions to Uranus and Neptune—and nothing quite like it is planned to happen ever again. Told from the insider’s perspective of mission leader Dr. Alan Stern and others on New Horizons, Chasing New Horizons is a riveting story of scientific discovery, and of how much humans can achieve when people focused on a dream work together toward their incredible goal.

Rocket Ride: A Career in Space Exploration and Its Lessons for Leadership, Perseverance, and Achievement From leading 2,500 men and women to create and execute a decade long NASA mission to explore Pluto and the farthest worlds ever explored, to flying in space himself as a commercial astronaut, to leading NASA’s entire $6+ billion space science enterprise, to a South Pole expedition and a submersible dive 13,000 feet below the North Atlantic to the RMS Titanic, Dr. Alan Stern has had an incredibly inspiring career. In this stirring and oftentimes funny presentation, he recounts these and other exploration efforts he’s been involved in, stressing a common thread of perseverance needed to overcome obstacles; how one inspires large teams to high achievement; and the lessons for project and corporate leadership that he has learned from a career he dubs a “Rocket Ride."

When Incredible Opportunity Knocks: My Submersible Dive 12,500 Feet Below the Atlantic to Explore the Titanic Sometimes in life an opportunity just comes out of nowhere. That happened to this space explorer in early 2022 when Stern was presented with an opportunity to take part in a risky but rewarding scientific and archeological exploration of the Titanic, the most famous ship wreck on Earth. But the opportunity didn’t come for free, it mean a great deal of training on short notice and a large disruption to an overly full calendar. But recognizing that many less people have explored the Titanic than have explored space, the costs were worth the benefits, and the very real life-and-death risks were worth the reward. This presentation will focus on the choices we must often make when opportunity knocks, the role Stern played in the exploration of RMS Titanic, and ocean exploration's parallels to spaceflight.

Twenty-Six Years To Pluto and New Horizons: How Persistence Pays In Life When the New Horizons mission reached Pluto in 2015 at the far frontier of our solar system, it had been over 26 years since mission leader Dr. Alan Stern first approached NASA to fly a mission to planet Pluto. In this engaging and oftentimes funny presentation, Dr. Stern describes the long and difficult road from idea to launch, fraught with setbacks, and the equally long and sometimes heart-stopping journey across the solar system. This epic tale of persistence and personal perseverance by Dr. Stern and his team will motivate public audiences, business groups, professional societies, corporate teams, and schools to higher achievement in their own lives.

To the Everest of Planetary Exploration: How The United States Has Trailblazed the Solar System From Neil Armstrong’s first step on the Moon to Mars rovers and Mercury orbiters to NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, the United States has led a historic era of planetary exploration unparalleled in history. Dr. Alan Stern describes this sweeping age, its historic and geopolitical importance, and the most important scientific discoveries it delivered. He emphasizes the ways this has touched people around the globe and how it shows America on our game in the 21st century. He then looks forward into the future, on what lies ahead for both the robotic and human exploration of the solar system.

Nine Practices and Lessons in Leadership and Management from the Exploration of Pluto New Horizons, which explored Pluto in 2015, was a billion-dollar project involving over 2,500 people and setting records for lean costing and rapid development in space flight. Every business executive, aspiring executive, and business student can learn and profit from the practices Stern and his team used and refined in one the most epic scientific projects ever undertaken. Stern describes how persistence pays off, how to choose an A-team for the long haul, how to solves problems, and how to communicate clearly, with examples from the development and flight of New Horizons.

After leading NASA’s mission to Pluto, Alan Stern flies to space himself.

Alan Stern becomes one of the first NASA-funded researchers to fly on a commercial spaceflight.

For The Hill, Alan writes about how his exploration of the Titanic led to a realization about the future of spaceflight.

Alan explains the asteroid Ultiima Thule for BBC World

Learn why Pluto is a planet in Alan Stern’s article in The Washington Post

Check out these interviews with Alan Stern in Discover Magazine and on CNBC

Alan Stern appeared on podcasts The Space Show and Are We There Yet? to talk about his new book

Listen to Alan Stern talk about Chasing New Horizon’s on Cool Science Radio

Read a review Chasing New Horizons in Publisher’s Weekly

Check out this interview with Alan Stern in Forbes about Pluto

Time Magazine selects Alan Stern as one of their 100 Most Influential People of 2007 and 2016

The Wall Street Journal interviews Alan Stern for their Weekend Interview column

Alan Stern sits down for a Q&A with Scientific American

The Orlando Sentinel reveals the New Horizons’ efforts to collect science on a new object helping scientists better understand the Kuiper Belt

The Washington Post cites Alan Stern’s work in an article about how dying stars might be habitable for living

Alan Stern comments on the SpaceX rocket test in an article for The Denver Post

The Daily Camera highlights Alan Stern’s achievement of receiving the 2018 National Award of Nuclear Science and History from the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History

Follow Alan Stern on Twitter

"We asked Alan to speak at Target as part of our annual Design Month conference, a program which celebrates design, creativity and innovation across the entire company. Alan spoke during at time of significant transformation for Target and his story of perseverance, often in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances, resonated with our audience in a way that felt deeply personal and authentic. He was savvy storyteller, able to captivate and hold the attention of the room and demonstrated a passion for his work that made his delivery feel fresh and uniquely tailored to our audience. His remarkable story of the New Horizon's mission to reach Pluto has a universal appeal – I would recommend him as a speaker for organizations of any size.”

"Alan’s experience and passion makes our new age of space exploration and discovery compelling to everyone. His deep knowledge from many successful missions, capped by the incredible fly by of Pluto, make him the finest public speaker on science alive today."
-US National Space Society

"Alan gave out Joseph Henry Lecture to a full house at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. this year. His presentation on New Horizons and Pluto was exceptional and inspiring. Alan has a rare ability to communicate not only his personal experiences in bringing New Horizons to life, but also the technical challenges and scientific rewards of the program. He held the attention of a very diverse audience - from high school students to seasoned NASA scientists - throughout his very well illustrated lecture, and he was incredibly generous with his time afterwards, answering questions and joining the audience for further discussion afterwards. We all came away with a deeper appreciation for New Horizon and a greater understanding of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. We could not have asked for a more interesting talk or a more personable speaker."
-The Philosophical Society of Washington

"Alan Stern is in the top league of professional speakers in the field of planetary science. His captivating talks not only engage the audience but invite them on a journey through research and discovery. Dr. Stern’s lecture skills are brilliant and personable- he connects with everyone. Without a doubt, one of the best speakers available."
-Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF)

"Alan Stern matches a remarkable record of leadership and scientific research with an authentic passion for sharing the excitement of space exploration. In his riveting keynote presentation at the 2015 Flagstaff Festival of Science, he took the audience on a behind-the-scenes tour of our solar system, culminating with the historic flyby of Pluto by New Horizons, a project which he led. He wove together a tale fraught with challenges and intrigue and showed how people can achieve their dreams given healthy doses of grit, hard work, and conviction. This inspirational program left the audience energized and wanting more, and demonstrated why Time Magazine recognizes Stern as one of the world’s 100 most influential people."
-Flagstaff Festival of Science