An Interview with LANL's International, Space, and Response (ISR) New Division Leader

Kevin Saeger was appointed Los Alamos National Laboratory International, Space, and Response Division Leader in 2010. Formerly a Decision Applications Division group leader, Saeger has worked at the Laboratory for ten years. Saeger has a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering, and master's and doctoral degrees in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

NSS: Your experience has been diverse—aerospace engineering, software design, working at the Pentagon, and leading a LANL risk analysis group to halt terrorism. What attracted you to ISR?

ISR is unparalleled in its ability to successfully integrate science, engineering, and technology to deliver custom sensors to the field. ISR has an end-to-end approach that is rare today. In a single organization, we design and deliver sensors; operate them and analyze their data streams; and use these data to refine our understanding and develop new theories of the underlying phenomenology.  This cycle of design, deploy, operate, analyze, and innovate harkens back to the roots of the Laboratory.

NSS: What are your overall goals for ISR? Any changes in direction for the division?

I have been given the great responsibility of leading one of the premier science and engineering divisions of the laboratory. My overall goal is to ensure that we maintain our high standards for excellence and foster the next generation of staff that will be the core of the division in ISR in 2020 and beyond. While there are no planned changes in course, there will be a renewed emphasis on integrating the vast resources of the division and partnering effectively with the other technical divisions on solving the Nation's problems.

NSS: What projects are you most excited about this year?

Choosing a top project is like choosing your favorite family member—impossible to do and fraught with danger. We are making great advances on multiple fronts: advances in machine learning and low-light imaging, a mission to Mars, new architectural standards for future space missions, continued advances in our nuclear detonation detection mission, and development of a high-energy free-electron laser system for the United States Navy. All these projects are exciting and important. If they weren't, we wouldn't be pursuing them.

NSS: ISR balances space exploration and nonproliferation/space-situational awareness. How do these fields contribute to mutual success while protecting our nation?

These areas are all mutually supporting. In order to reliably execute our nuclear detonation detection mission, we must have an exquisite understanding of all the naturally occurring phenomena that provide the background for our sensors. From lightning strikes in the radiation field to gamma-ray bursts and coronal mass ejections from the Sun, scientists and engineers in ISR are making revolutionary advances in describing and understanding these natural phenomena. These measurement and analysis techniques are applicable to space exploration, treaty verification, and space weather.

NSS: Are there prominent changes at NASA or at the federal level (related to ISR) worth mentioning?

The day-to-day vagaries of federal budgets and continuing resolutions can be distracting. However, in the long run, we believe that there is an enduring mission that ISR is uniquely qualified to fulfill.

NSS: How is the science performed in ISR imperative to LANL's overall mission?

The science base is essential for developing and sustaining some of the best capabilities in the world to solve some of the most difficult national security problems of today. This includes attracting and retaining top scientists and engineers. Additionally, many of signals that we need to measure for our national security programs have natural backgrounds that we must understand, such as lightning, space weather, natural CO2 variations, and terahertz emissions from natural sources. Understanding these backgrounds provides a portal to outstanding science across many disciplines.

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