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“The know-how of aerospace engineers is state of the art.” Exactly 55 years after the first human space flight, commercial companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are preparing the next revolution: space tourism. Commercial space travel has the potential to do for engineering what Google and Apple did for IT: make it an appealing profession.
The first human words ever spoken outside of earth were not Neil Armstrong’s carefully prepared “it’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. It was the far less memorable quote “let’s go”, from the Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, who exactly 55 years ago, on April 12th 1961, was the first person ever to fly into outer space.
What back then started as a political prestige project in the Cold War is now half a century later turning into a commercial industry: space tourism is just around the corner. Good news for the engineering industry. Commercial space travel has the potential to do for engineering what Google, Apple and Facebook did for IT: “At birthday parties people are now actually interested in what engineers have to say. Because it’s perceived as an exciting profession,” says Bart van der Leij, Recruitment Manager for Engineering at Michael Page. These are 4 examples of exciting projects that are being developed at this very moment:
This sounds far less futuristic than it actually is. The Galactic Suite Group in Barcelona is already designing orbital stations that can be used as space hotels. The ambition is to become the future provider of space holidays. Although the hotel is yet to be built and there is no transportation available to get there, more than 30 wealthy space tourists have already booked a room.
But there are more players in the space holiday market. Robert Bigelow, a hotel real estate developer from Las Vegas, decided to expand his business to outer space. He took a design from NASA, of an inflatable space station, to start developing his first real estate project for space apartments, offices and hotels. His company Bigelow Aerospace has already successfully launched two test models.
The Apollo 11 moon landing had an enormous impact on the interest for engineering among the youth in the United States and the rest of the world. The first successful commercial flight to the moon might have a similar effect. Companies like SpaceX - owned by wonder boy Elon Musk, founder of PayPal and Tesla - and Blue Origin - from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos - are competing to be the first commercial spaceline. But that would be just the first step. If it were up to Elon Musk colonising the moon and Mars would be the ultimate goal.
The organisation Mars One has the serious ambition to have a human settlement on Mars by 2030. Whether that’s feasible or not is up for debate. But the idea alone has already sparked innovation. Could we for instance find a way to grow crops on another planet than our own? Bio system engineer Gene Giacomelli developed a so called ‘lunar greenhouse’ that could be used for missions to the moon and Mars. The greenhouse would be buried underground, to protect the plants from radiation and could function almost without any help from humans.
Although the actual jobs in the space flight industry are still limited, specialists with a background in aerospace engineering are in high demand. “The margin of error in the aerospace industry is much smaller than in other industries,” explains Bart van der Leij. “Therefore aerospace engineers are used to working at an extremely complex and abstract level. That makes them appealing to other industries, such as the automotive and the medical branch. At the moment, for example, I’m recruiting for a client that delivers components to the Formula One Ferrari team. An aerospace engineer would be a perfect candidate, because as modest and quiet these kind of engineers usually are, their know-how is state of the art.”
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