Originally Published in AIAA’s Aerospace America, Flight Path Column
Humans have always been driven to explore and push boundaries, and expanding humanity off Earth is the next opportunity. Space investments have grown exponentially in the past five years, with small satellites making imaging and sensing from space more accessible to new markets like agriculture, construction, insurance, and others. NASA is now investing heavily in the Artemis program to return humans to the moon and then on to Mars. These investments, along with government and commercial investments in space transportation, will provide the infrastructure needed to begin thinking long term about space settlement. Now is the time to start thinking about what it will be like to live and work on another planet or in space. What are the challenges and what disciplines need to be considered?
Bringing multidisciplinary players to the discussion is one reason why AIAA created ASCEND, a new, outcomes-focused, transdisciplinary platform built by space professionals to grow the space economy. It will be a place where scientists, engineers, economists, medical professionals, educators, legal professionals, artists, investors, and entrepreneurs gather to network, share ideas, and develop solutions.
ASCEND stands for Accelerating Space Commerce, Exploration and New Discovery. It will debut 16–18 November 2020. At ASCEND, you will explore emerging space-related applications and opportunities across aerospace and other industries such as manufacturing, mining, pharmaceuticals, and telecommunications. You will also access the strengths of AIAA—the technical panels and sessions that bring together and educate experts from industry, government, and academia.
ASCEND programming is being led by a Guiding Coalition of industry leaders and experts. Dava Newman, Apollo Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT and a Guiding Coalition member, said “ASCEND is inclusive, hands-on, and outcomes-oriented. It’s the conference of the future.”
We’re introducing ASCEND programming in various venues throughout the year. At IAC 2019 in October, we hosted a panel of space industry founders for a discussion on lessons learned from space startups. In March, we’re traveling to Austin, TX, to host the “ASCEND: Creating Our Off-World Civilization” panel at South by Southwest (SXSW). We competed against 4,400 entrants to claim a spot at this internationally renowned annual event.
The SXSW panel will include Ariel Ekblaw (MIT Media Lab), Sandy Magnus (former astronaut and member of the ASCEND Guiding Coalition), Kathryn Denning (York University), and Wanda Sigur (former vice president at Lockheed Martin). They will address how to deal with the inherent human challenges—both physiological and psychological—to living and working off-Earth. They’ll discuss the technical and design solutions needed, as well as our ethical responsibility as this journey unfolds, and how we ensure we meet it.
Now is a pivotal time to build the framework for how we’re going to live and work off-planet, and we need creative and open-minded people to take on work that will have a tangible impact on our future. AIAA created ASCEND for YOU, and you can become a part of this transformative conversation by answering the Call for Content. We are looking for participants to host debates, lead workshops and, of course, present technical papers. Submissions are due on 17 March.
Together we ASCEND!
Executive Producer, ASCEND
Former President, Blue Origin