One of the truly great mysteries of life is that of space. Since the dawn of time itself, we human beings have been fascinated with the infinite expanse around us, wondering what lies beyond. It is no surprise that as soon as technologically possible, global leaders diverted their attention toward space exploration. What started off as a race between two global superpowers – USA and USSR back in the mid-1900s, quickly evolved into something much bigger.
In a short time, humans have become far more well-versed with space and what it entails. Since landing on the Moon over 50 years ago, human space exploration has continued to develop with Skylab, the Space Shuttle missions, International Space Station (ISS), and others. Driven by the curiosity of the human brain, today we know more about space than the oceans on earth. All said and done however, venturing into the unforgiving mystery of space is no easy feat.
For one company however, creating pathways to send humans into unexplored space is their purpose of existing. Established in 1993, Paragon Space Development Corporation has committed itself to developing innovative new solutions that fill life support and thermal control technology gaps in the ever-evolving space, defense, and commercial marketplaces.
Leslie Haas, Vice President of Business Development shares, “Through superior products and persistent innovation, Paragon continues to provide pathways to send humans farther than they have ever gone before in space while also providing solutions for unique human survival needs here on Earth.”
A New Era of Space Development
Headquartered in Tucson, Arizona and with offices in offices in Houston, Texas and Denver, Colorado, Paragon has worked on every major human space flight program since 1999. Its hardware has flown on NASA spacecraft – Orion, ISS and Space Shuttle, on foreign spacecrafts like the Soyuz and Mir, as well as commercial spacecrafts.
The organization’s expertise in engineering, design, analysis, and manufacturing, combined with its patented ECLSS Human-Rating Facility (EHF) and Testing Facilities, position the company as a leader in the development of innovative and affordable life support and thermal control solutions. “There has not been a more exciting time to be in the aerospace business since the days of Apollo over 50 years ago,” states Leslie. From scientists, engineers, software developers, and technicians, Paragon is a hard-charging company with an adventuresome spirit. Its goal is to change the future by creating solutions that would allow humans to expand beyond their previously believed limits.
Paragon develops and produces innovative solutions for the most demanding life support and thermal control challenges in the space and defense markets. Whether it is deep space, low earth orbit, undersea, or on the ground, all Paragon systems and hardware provide safe and comfortable environments for astronauts, explorers, military personnel, and unmanned space and terrestrial vehicles.
The Commercial Space Travel Industry
Today, there is no shortage of hype surrounding the commercial space industry. For decades, relatively non-easy access to space and the big budgets to go with it have dangled elusively just over the horizon. But now, with pioneers such as Paragon Space Development Corporation flanking the space travel efforts, the industry is expected to generate revenue of $1.1 trillion or more in 2040, up from the current $350 billion, according to a recent Wharton report.
“The new Commercial Space industry is requiring a different thought process. Our modular system solution can be expanded or contracted to fit customer crew sizes and mission durations. This eliminates the need for costly custom-built designs and instead enables solutions that are thoroughly tested, reliable, safe, and affordable,” shares Leslie.
Paragon’s common ECLSS approach results in reduced delivery schedules as products do not need to be developed from the ground up for every application. Another patented technology, the xRAD® radiators, has been designed to eliminate the structural and thermal weaknesses associated with traditional honeycomb or bonded radiator structures. This results in an increase in vehicle integration flexibility while reducing manufacturing costs. It is this sort of ingenuity that has always kept Paragon a cut above the rest.
At Paragon, Leslie directs their business development and marketing efforts. Prior to joining here, she had more than 25 years of global business experience with Fortune 100 and startup companies in diverse industries including aerospace, energy and entertainment. Her aerospace experience includes engineering and project management roles on the Space Shuttle program and the ISS as well as program management roles at Moog (formerly Schaeffer Magnetics).
“As the leader of business development and marketing, I drive growth in the core business as well as new markets central to Paragon’s Strategy, Mission and Vision. This includes business initiatives, strategic sales and marketing programs, acquisitions & mergers, government affairs, and ensuring a pipeline of business opportunities to support growth,” states Leslie.
When she joined the company in 2017, one of Leslie’s primary objectives was to transition Paragon from providing only engineering services for design and analysis and prototype designs to providing full environmental control systems design and production. “We have achieved this goal and experienced nearly 1000% growth over the last 5 years. We have a great team at Paragon and I cannot be prouder of the way we have handled this tremendous growth,” declares Leslie.
Leslie has also been recognized in several areas, including the NASA Silver Snoopy Award- a special honor awarded by NASA for outstanding achievements related to human flight safety or mission success, and was an Engineer of the Year honoree for her work on the Space Shuttle Main Engine. She was then asked to join the team launching the new International Space Station program, where she was honored with the President’s Leadership award at Rockwell International/Rocketdyne (now Boeing).
Later, Leslie held the post of Vice-President and General Manager at the Sony DVD Center which launched the DVD format worldwide. She also served as the Vice President of Business Development for the Sony Pictures Digital Studios Division. For her game-changing initiatives at Sony, Haas was awarded the Sony CEO Award in Tokyo and the Sony 50th Anniversary Innovation Award – the first time in the history of Sony that these were awarded outside of Japan. “The experience and success of these endeavors contributed to my success now as VP of Business Development at Paragon,” says Leslie.
Leslie is also a member of the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences and served on the Susan G. Komen Board of Directors. She received her B.S. degree in Industrial Engineering from Texas A&M University and her MBA from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.
Being a Trailblazer
“It has always been a part of my plan to become a leader,” states Leslie, thinking about the time she started off as a young aerospace engineer over 25 years ago. Slowly but surely, she kept pushing boundaries, to challenge convention, and to inspire colleagues and teammates to always strive for success. It has always been her objective to lead organizations with vision and dynamism to greater heights of accomplishment and to approach challenges not as roadblocks, but as opportunities for discovery, strength, and growth.
As a woman in the predominantly male dominated industry of rockets and machines, Haas shares that she encountered pushbacks and prejudice at times. Despite being underestimated because of being a woman and due to orthodox times in general a few decades back, she remained focused on her goal. “In my career, I have always been focused on launching new products and/or new programs, so I did experience barriers. Whether it was the launch of the International Space Station in the 90s or the worldwide launch of the DVD format when I was with Sony. My advantage is that I was tenacious, hard-working, and had a “failure is not an option” mentality which served me well.”
Through constant dedication and hard work, and the drive to be nothing short of best, today, Leslie has not only excelled herself, but has also been responsible for creating pathways for many other women. A highly revered female leader, as well as an industry leader in multiple sectors, Leslie encourages a “never give up” attitude in other young women. “I was a college athlete so this aversion to losing is deeply ingrained. I always look for workarounds for obstacles that are put in my path. There is always a solution to a problem or a roadblock– you may just have to ask a different set of questions or be open to a new path,” says Leslie.
In her opinion (and experience), Leslie believes that a great leader is someone with a combination of qualities and attributes like good judgement, a sense of justice, loyalty, decisiveness, courage and subject matter knowledge. But beneath all of that she believes that a leader has to be able to bring people along with their vision towards a goal. A great leader she says, “works toward building a highly effective team of people that is greater than the sum of all of its individual parts, which allows you to accomplish almost anything.”
It’s no wonder that when asked about people who inspire her, Leslie’s list ranges from the likes of the legendary Amelia Earhart – “a true pioneer in aviation and a daring person if there ever was one, a woman who challenged every convention known and accomplished great feats,” to Margaret Thatcher – “who led a nation, against all conventions and expectations, from a tough time back to greatness and achievement, and she did it with a perfect natural combination of skill, smarts, toughness, attentiveness, class, shrewdness and the ability to communicate persuasively and clearly.”
In her free time, Leslie enjoys fishing, an activity she’s recently picked up and one that she finds to be a combination of both relaxation and thrill, especially when a “big catch” comes along. One of her recent fishing highlights was catching a 9-foot lemon shark off of Cape Canaveral in Florida. Leslie is also committed to missions and causes that are meaningful to her. She has served on two non-profit boards, including the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Into the Horizon
Looking ahead, there are many exciting initiatives being developed at Paragon. For starters, Paragon is working on project Artemis – a program that will send the first woman and first person of color to the Moon. NASA’s first Artemis launch is scheduled for end of August 2022 which includes the Orion spacecraft which has over 75 pieces of Paragon hardware on board. Another Artemis program is HALO, on which Paragon is supplying the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) for OEM Northrop Grumman. Paragon’s patented Brine Processor Assembly, currently on the ISS, solves a significant technology gap for NASA in that it increases water loop closure to approximately 98% by processing brine from the Urine Processor Assembly (UPA) upstream which is critical for long duration missions. Its Humidity Control Assembly is on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner which just had a test flight in May 2022.
“We are also working on multiple NASA-funded In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technology development contracts. When NASA returns to the Moon with the Artemis program, ISRU infrastructure will provide propellant for astronauts to make the return trip home as well as water to support sustainable lunar habitation. Paragon is also on the team that was awarded a NASA xEVAS contract to develop the next generation spacesuit which will be used for Artemis missions to the Moon and the International Space Station,” says Leslie.
As a leader of young ambitious women engineers around the world, Leslie invites like-minded individuals to become a part of the ever-growing engineering and science community, and to contribute to make significant changes in our world. “For me, inspiring and empowering women to pursue careers in this area is a personal calling as it opens up immense career possibilities when it is combined with hard work, “leaning in”, not giving up, and not being afraid to take chances,” concludes Leslie Haas.