Space industry will need artists, designers, lawyers: MIT Space Exploration Initiative director

·4 min read

Jeff Bezos is scheduled to launch into space on his company Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket on July 20.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Space Exploration Initiative has partnered with Blue Origin and conducted critical research aboard its previous space test flights. MIT's first research launch with Blue Origin was in 2019 to study the effects of microgravity. (Many details of the partnership are private.)

“We have had an opportunity to install experiments and be able to get data back from the same chamber, a similar chamber, to what will now, as we’re excitedly watching, be ferrying Jeff Bezos and a few other human space tourists up into suborbital space tourism for the first time,” Ariel Ekblaw, founder and director of MIT’s Space Exploration Initiative, told Yahoo Finance.

Bezos will be aboard the space exploration company’s first rocket flight carrying humans to an altitude of over 340,000 feet. Bezos, who is formally stepping down as Amazon CEO on July 5, and other passengers will be able to view planet Earth from zero gravity in space for roughly three minutes before returning to the surface of the Earth.

Blue Origin auctioned off a seat on Jeff Bezos’ space flight for $28 million on Saturday. “If Blue Origin says they’re ready and Jeff is ready to take that flight, we’ll all be watching very excitedly and wish them all the best,” said Ekblaw.

Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos addresses the media about the New Shepard rocket booster and Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States April 5, 2017.  REUTERS/Isaiah J. Downing     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos addresses the media about the New Shepard rocket booster and Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Isaiah J. Downing

The MIT Space Exploration Initiative has been funding annual zero gravity flight simulations since 2017 for astronauts, research program guests, MIT professors, graduate, and undergraduate students from other universities. Participants board a plane to experience the weightlessness that accompanies a zero gravity environment.

“It’s a Boeing 727 a little bit modified and just like what you’d fly in across the Atlantic, for example, and what that plane does, is it does what you never want a plane to do,” says Ekblaw. “It pitches very steeply upward 45 degrees, noses over, pitches very steeply downward, flies what we call a parabolic ark, and then does that ark 30 to 40 times in the sky. So, yes, it’s a very apt description actually to call it a roller coaster in the sky.”

The business of space

Space exploration is evolving. It’s been 50 years since Neil Armstrong took his famous first walk on the moon, and private funds have poured into the space exploration industry. In 2019, $5.8 billion was invested in space companies, according to venture capital firm Space Angels. Bezos is not the only billionaire pushing the envelope in space: Elon Musk’s SpaceX has also been working to improve its space flights and is set to launch its Falcon 9 rocket on June 17. Billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic (SPCE) has so far flown five people to space on two test flights.

Axiom Space is a company that is developing the world’s first privately funded commercial space station. It raised $130 million in series B funding in February.

FILE - In this June 6, 2019 file photo, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaks at the the Amazon re:MARS convention, in Las Vegas. Bezos will be aboard for Blue Origin's first human space flight next month. In an Instagram post early Monday, June 7, 2021, Bezos said he, his brother, and the winner of an ongoing auction, will be aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft during its scheduled launch on July 20.  (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
FILE - In this June 6, 2019 file photo, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaks at the the Amazon re:MARS convention, in Las Vegas. Bezos will be aboard for Blue Origin's first human space flight next month. In an Instagram post early Monday, June 7, 2021, Bezos said he, his brother, and the winner of an ongoing auction, will be aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft during its scheduled launch on July 20. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

“The space industry business is no longer just tied up in satellites and data products. It’s now really beginning to explore the future of human life in space,” says Ekblaw. “For all the richness of human life on earth, we will want the same diversity of roles. We’ll want the rich tapestry of what makes life so special on earth to also be designed for in space.”

Morgan Stanley projects the space economy could generate revenue of more than $1 trillion in 2040, up from $350 billion in 2020. Job opportunities in space exploration will extend to workers beyond the typical science fields, says Ekblaw.

“We need scientists and engineers like myself still, but we also need space architects, we need space artists, space designers, space lawyers to help us deal with all of the interesting policy and legal questions that are going to arise within this next decade,” she said.

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