MJ MARGGRAFF

At the annual American Institute of Aeronautics and Aerospace (AIAA) SPACE 2015 Conference last week in Pasadena, CA, where down the street reside Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, I learned that the future has arrived. I strapped in, realizing that it’s happening faster than previously thought.

We are redefining our boundaries each week, and in doing so, our world is updated by discoveries coming in daily. Everywhere I looked and with everyone I met, the possibilities are unbounded, limited only by our imaginations and when believing that all answers are conclusive.

Will Rogers once said: “It’s not what we know that causes us problems, it’s what we know that ain’t so.” What is known about space today is regularly replaced by tomorrow’s news: We can look deeper into space than any other time, where the Hubble space telescope at about 400 miles high peers at ancient lights of our beginning and has calculated the age of our rapidly-expanding cosmos; our country is living longer in space than any other time with Scott Kelly’s year-long stay on the International Space Station, and finding how to live safely longer for journeys even further. And we are making plans now to go further. Why? Because leaving Earth—even standing back from a short distance—gives us a greater understanding of our fragile solar spaceship, perhaps will even make us better caregivers of it. But there is still so much to learn—and be ready to recast what we think we know. First, we must be prepared to take some measured risks…

Commercial space companies are our among needed risk-takers. Since 2000, more companies have begun new innovations for space than at any other time, with a new one appearing almost every month. Orbiting above, we now have satellites the size of bread-loaves that watch our fragile environment, giving picture data daily on climate change, agricultural options, and migrations of animal life. On Station, new drug therapies are developed, made best in micro-gravity. After a ten- year transit, the New Horizons probe reached Pluto, a dwarf planet in our solar neighborhood, and found an active, icy, landscape—unexpected, since Pluto was considered a dead, icy world. We had only thought we knew about it, only to discover that it ‘ain’t so.’

What else are we capable of? We will know when we go further. As odd as it sounds, we will receive the best breakthroughs for Earth by leaving it and taking the risks necessary in order to better understand our world. After all, how many of us left home for the same reason, to better know who we are? How else do we pursue a passion unless we take a chance and step into a ‘new’ world? We have crossed the deserts on foot for new continents, the seas in wooden ships for new worlds, the air in early planes of fabric-covered wings, and now we embark on new voyages into space—almost unaware that our excursions into air and space happening in little more than the last 110 years. It is our challenge, even a calling, to find out what is ‘out there’: other life, other resources, and other details about our own existence.

For the 800 attendees at AIAA, we were given more than 300 presentations to choose from on subjects related to the pushing of boundaries and how to successfully occupy the Moon and Mars. Both are a reach. For now. But on Station reside astronauts that, at an altitude of 245 miles, are giving us insights on how we will succeed to explore further and settle from a place of health, peace, with a dedication to help humankind, and to allow any astronaut to return to Earth again. When will this happen? It looks likely within the next twenty years, in the 2030’s. In the meantime, there are many questions to ask and to solve.

I attended AIAA as a presenter of a new project to address one of our problems: How will we progress if we don’t have the right talent to get us there? I created Space Games to encourage and engage our future space-work talent. In a few years our country will be critically short on talent to fill the jobs we forecast — short by one million positions unfilled that will need science, technical, engineering, and math training. With Made In Space (MIS), Space Games gives students interested in these disciplines to work together as a team to make a game, one that will be made by the astronauts on the MIS zero gravity 3-D printer on the Station. And we’re requesting that astronauts play it up there too. The pilot program for the first Space Games is slated for early 2016. There was a lot of interest in it at AIAA when I presented the poster on Space Games — I’d like to see many more students have the opportunity to connect to space with their games for astronauts.

This has been a great summer. Actually, it goes back to twelve summers ago, back to the summer of 2003 when I studied a book about learning to fly, a passion I had had for a very long time. But reading about it was the easy part. The next step was the hard part — I had to go to an airfield office and schedule my first lesson. The first turn-of-the-prop of my passion was in the fall of 2003. I worked hard to make it through the skies that I love so much. But when you are passionate about something, it is its own motivation, taking on its own life and taking yours along with it. Today, having earned five pilot ‘licenses’, I have gone through other doors and am here at an even higher altitude, the edge of space—my other passion. The prop turning that day was only the first move to an even more thrilling notion that there are more mysteries out there waiting for us to find them.

What inspires you? Expect it to take a work. But it’s worth it. Whatever your airplane is, fly it. It just might take you to the stars.