The retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program in 2011 unleashed a wave of nostalgia across the United States and beyond. People reminisced about the astronauts who served as childhood heroes. Crowds lined the streets to pay their respects to NASA’s fleet—Enterprise, Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour—as the ships headed to their final destinations: American museums.
For students of aeronautics, the end of the shuttle program was both poignant and exciting, heralding a new era in the exploration of space. This year, a private company became the first-ever to make a commercial cargo delivery to the International Space Station—a job the NASA orbiters used to perform. Startups with names like Planetary Resources and Moon Express are snatching up science and engineering graduates from universities across the country.
Against this backdrop of change, UB students are hosting the nation’s largest student-run space conference this November. The event, SpaceVision 2012, will begin on Nov. 8 and bring some of the biggest names in aeronautics to Buffalo.
The directors of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Kennedy Space Center and Langley Research Center will be there. So will astronaut Peggy Whitson, the 13th chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office. Private sector speakers will include Will Pomerantz, Virgin Galactic’s vice president for special projects, and Chris Lewicki, president of Planetary Resources, “the asteroid-mining company.”
In a nod to changing times, the conference theme is “Crossroads: How Our Generation Will Take Us to the Space Frontier.”
“It’s definitely a huge shift taking place,” said Mary Magilligan, president of UB’s chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), which is hosting the meeting. “My friends who are in aerospace, they’re not all thinking of applying to NASA. A couple of my friends are hoping to apply for SpaceX, which is the first company to build and launch its own capsule into space.”
At the conference, panels will cover topics including NASA’s transition into a new, post-shuttle era; whether future space missions should be manned or unmanned; the future of private investment in space; and more.