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There are space conferences, and then there is ASCEND, the world’s most comprehensive convening point for anyone invested in building an off-world future. ASCEND is AIAA’s new space community platform. Featuring year-round programming and culminating in a global annual event, ASCEND attracts participants from all sectors and backgrounds who share a passion for space.

ASCEND debuted last year online during the Covid-19 pandemic and will return in a hybrid format 15–17 November, live at Caesars Forum in Las Vegas and online everywhere.

ASCEND — An Interdisciplinary Community

“We intentionally designed ASCEND with two things in mind – one, to offer the technical depth and breadth of an AIAA conference, and two, to bring in senior leaders in the industry who can help drive the conversation around building our off-world future,” said Rob Meyerson, ASCEND’s executive producer.

Meyerson, a 30-plus year industry veteran and former president of Blue Origin, has brought together a who’s who cross section of the space industry to serve as the ASCEND Guiding Coalition and help direct the event’s innovative “outcomes-focused” design.

In addition to drawing technical professionals from academia, commercial, and government space sectors, ASCEND invites participation from adjacent industries, including, for example, construction, agriculture, hospitality, medical, and manufacturing. It also embraces professionals in non-technical roles such as finance, legal, supply chain, human resources, and business development, who are needed to build a thriving space ecosystem.

“It’s super critical that ASCEND be a convening area for the entire community. We want to make sure all disciplines are represented,” said Meyerson.

The inaugural ASCEND main event last November hosted more than 3,000 participants online from 33 countries. Some 1,300+ organizations were represented, including 125 universities. Thousands more attended smaller-scaled, single-topic ASCENDx Summits, Webinars, and Workshops throughout 2020.

“It really is a place for all comers in space – from established space industry veterans to new space entrepreneurs to leaders from adjacent industries not typically doing business in space, but who want to,” added ASCEND Guiding Coalition member Shawna Pandya, a scientist-astronaut candidate with the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences/Luxsonic Technologies. “Space is changing at an exponential rate and ASCEND is the magnifying glass for the changing diaspora in space.”

2020 Lessons Learned, 2021 Experience Improved

“A key value of ASCEND is the multiple levels at which we engage people,” said Pandya, a three-time ASCEND presenter in 2020. “At the macro level, you can see veterans with decades of space experience discussing the big picture view. At the meta level, you may have a group of professionals sharing their perspective in hands-on workshops where there can be an ongoing dialogue.”

“We want people to feel like they are part of the process. We’re going to continue to leverage what worked last year . . . so we can elevate the conversation further,” she added.

“The pandemic accelerated our transformation to virtual, allowing us to engage people throughout the year with ASCENDx sessions that helped build our year-round community,” said Meyerson.

The three-part March 2021 ASCENDxSummit: “Accelerating the Next-Generation Workforce,” which began with a riveting livestream discussion between two futurists and a historian, is one example of the unique brand of conversation ASCEND will build on in November.

NASA has emerged as a strong supporter of ASCEND, both at the 2020 event and since then, headlining two livestream summits in 2021. A preview of the NASA Perseverance Mars Arrival in February will be followed by a talk on laser communication technology in space at the upcoming 15 June ASCENDxSummit: “Accelerating Pathways to Space.”

ASCEND will be presented on a new platform this year for better engagement online, explained Craig Day, AIAA managing director of professional development. “The user interface will be much easier to navigate. We’ll have tools at our disposal that can allow folks to more easily connect and collaborate,” he said.

Attracting New Space Professionals

Another goal in 2021 is to attract more early and mid-career space professionals to ASCEND.

“We added members to the ASCEND Guiding Coalition to help ensure we design content that appeals to this group,” said Day, noting that these new members drive fresh insight on attracting fresh talent, the future generation of space users.
Pandya said ASCEND provides multiple discussion formats that plant the seeds for further collaboration.

“There’s a reason that I keep coming back – it’s the level of dialogue that we create with fellow professionals,” added Pandya, who has facilitated discussions on the future of space medicine.

Measuring Success

How will ASCEND’s organizers measure the success of this year’s hybrid model? ASCEND Guiding Coalition members and AIAA organizers agree the analytics will go well beyond hitting attendance numbers, with a focus on longer-term engagement.
Meyerson said he hopes over time ASCEND will help to dramatically grow AIAA membership, particularly from adjacent industries, to represent all the areas necessary to accelerate tomorrow’s space reality.

“Success for me is moving the ball forward on building our off-world future,” said Day, explaining that the November event is one point in time that brings the ASCEND community together. “It’s an ongoing conversation, so we need to continue to feed that dialogue.”

Ready to attend 2021 ASCEND– the on-ramp to our off-world future? RSVP to attend.

Want to catch up on the ASCENDxSeries, including original webinars collaborative workshops, and comprehensive summits for space professionals, students, entrepreneurs, and enthusiasts? Visit: ascend.events/ascendx/.

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