Three Generations of Space Explorers @ CA World 2016

Late last year I had the privilege to participate on a panel in Las Vegas with legendary space explorers Burt Rutan and Scott Kelly, accompanied by CEO of CA Technologies Mike Gregoire and moderated by Jessi Hempel of Backchannel. This panel was without a doubt one of the highlights of my year. Despite three very different backgrounds in the space industry, the common theme was the next generation of space travel and why we must push boundaries in space exploration.

Scott Kelly started off the panel by recounting stories on board the International Space Station and captivating the audience with his time spent in orbit. “Space exploration ultimately provides advances in technology here on Earth,” and as for re-entering the earth’s atmosphere after spending a year on the space station, “As soon as you realize you’re not going to die, it’s the most fun you’ll ever have.” At the time of this talk, Scott was just beginning to figure out what comes next after an illustrious career with NASA. I look forward to seeing and hearing what happens next!

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After sharing some of the context for where I am today such as learning to fly, interning at NASA, and driving a solar powered car across North America, I approached the conversation from the perspective of robotics. Specifically the future capabilities of robotics and how the next generation of robotics can hold us accountable as we explore, through initiatives like satellite servicing. Robotic/human compatibility will continue to be the foundation of exploration as we push further and further among the stars.

Burt’s perspective focused on the necessity of the private space sector to continue to push the frontiers of space and move beyond Low Earth Orbit. “NASA has become real risk-adverse” and it makes sense that the private sector is now leading the charge into space, Rutan explained. Burt challenged that nothing truly spectacular or ground breaking as happened in the space industry in the last 40 years and that it is time to push even harder and take more risks. I was impressed by Burt’s candor and clear passion for working on things we know are hard, in order to accomplish world firsts in the arena of space exploration.

There was an interesting balance on the panel between the need for commercial space in the private sector and government agencies such as NASA. But more importantly, as we explore and build upon private/public partnerships to explore space, it is our responsibility to inspire young people. Inspiring youth to dream big should be one of our greatest legacies. We need to encourage a generation to be everyday explorers. This is how we promote innovation and build resilient and sustainable communities here on Earth as we explore beyond the boundaries of Earth. Per aspera ad astra!

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