A Visit from the NASA Propulsion Academy

This morning, we had some special guests visit us at the X PRIZE Foundation: the research associates in the 2010 Propulsion Academy at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Both my wife and I are graduates of an affiliated program, the NASA Academy at Goddard Space Flight Center, so I'm always particularly excited to speak with the current batch of students. Without fail, they ask the best questions of any student group I speak to--and today's visit was no exception.

It was great to talk to these students--thirteen young men and women who are mostly aerospace or mechanical engineers, plus one alum and one staffer (who is also an alum). Given the political climate these days, I spent a bit more time that usual address how, in our opinion, so-called "NewSpace" and the more traditional space industry both benefit from each other. Sadly, too much of the rhetoric these days can give the impression that space is an "us vs. them" game, where increased success for NewSpace will mean less success for traditional space and vice versa. In our opinion, nothing could be further from the truth: NewSpace can provide unique or attractively priced services that allow traditional space to do what it does better, faster, or cheaper--and clearly, NewSpace benefits from having a thriving traditional space industry, as that industry is a significant customer. Thankfully, these Propulsion Academy student have already been exposed to that concept--probably ad nauseum, in fact--given that their staffer is none other than Masten Space Systems veteran Matt Cannella.

At the end of an enjoyable session, we turned the tables on them and asked them a few questions. Mainly, we were focused on understanding what inspired these young men and women to pursue careers in the space industry--figuring that the more we understand that, the better we can tailor our own educational activities to inspire the next generation to pursue STEM careers. We were quite pleased to hear "LEGO!" offfered as any enthusiastic first answer (MoonBots, anyone?). Model rocketry, FIRST Robotics, and the Team America Rocket Challenge were also listed as inspiring programs. Again, all good signs--it means we're on the right track with the activities we've offered and those that we are planning. We were also learned that the overwhelming majority of participants were attracted to space first and engineering second, rather than the other way around.

Many thanks to the Propulsion Academy students for sharing some time with us this morning. If any of your readers have student groups coming to the Los Angeles area and want to stop by to visit X PRIZE headquarter, please just drop us a line! We'll always do our best to make time to speak with the next generation.

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