By Kristen Mitchell
Earlier this month, billionaire Richard Branson and five teammates briefly launched into suborbital space on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, a milestone on the road to commercial space exploration that highlights what can be accomplished through private and public cooperation, experts say.
“For anyone who tries something that people think is impossible, don’t be discouraged,” said Lori Garver, MA ’89, CEO of Earthrise and former NASA official in the administrations of President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama, at a GW bicentennial event on Tuesday.
“People have dreamed of things happening now. “
The virtual event, titled “Celebrating 200 Years: GW on the Pulse of Space and Technology,” brought together four former executives to discuss how their GW experiences have shaped their future in the industry. space and technology. The event also featured Anousheh Ansari, MS ’92, CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation and first Iranian-American and first Muslim woman to go to space, and Ya-Qin Zhang, D.Sc. ’90, president, professor and dean of the Institute for AI Industry Research at Tsinghua University and former president of Internet company Baidu. The discussion was moderated by Kei Koizumi, MA ’95, Chief of Staff in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The event was sponsored by the GW Alumni Association.
The development of space technology stagnated in the decades following the Apollo missions of the 1960s and early 1970s. The past few years have aligned three essential elements: technological development, new sources of capital and policies aimed at making space exploration accessible to more people, Garver said. With those components in place, she said, there is no limit to what humans have the ability to do.
Dr Ansari, a winner of GW’s first Monumental Alumni Award, said the gains made through recent investments in space technology and increased collaboration between government and private sector are just the tip of the iceberg of what humanity has to gain.
“I am so excited about the knowledge we are gaining about our own planet and how we are using artificial intelligence and machine learning to find out more and plan more,” she said. “At the end of the day, the best benefit we can get from all the work is to collaborate and combine all that knowledge. “
At the start of the Internet revolution, no one had a clue what new technology would be discovered and how it would change the world. Dr Ansari anticipates a similar arc for space technology and new business and research on the horizon.
GW’s world-renowned faculty, students and alumni have built a rich legacy at the forefront of science, technology and space exploration. Members of the GW community have contributed to groundbreaking research on the Big Bang theory, were NASA’s first female spacecraft project leader, and the growth of countless cutting-edge innovations.
Mr. Koizumi came to GW with the goal of becoming a Foreign Service Officer, but ultimately decided to join GW’s science and technology policy program. As a student, he once visited the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, where he would later work during two presidential administrations.
Today, Mr. Koizumi teaches the Foundational Science and Technology Course, a course that he says changed his life during his studies at GW.
“GW has given me this wonderful opportunity to learn, but also to give it back to the students and to refresh myself with this knowledge throughout my career,” he said.
Ms Garver said she was inspired by the guest speakers who came to speak with the students about their careers in space policy as she continued her graduate studies at GW. She recalled a particularly impactful “Only at GW” visit from a woman who led politics and international affairs at NASA, the pinnacle of the career she wanted for herself.
“There were a lot of people coming from jobs where we could imagine,” Ms. Garver said.
The panelists offered advice to the next generation of GW students interested in space and technology. Dr Zhang, recipient of GW’s first Monumental Alumni award, encouraged students to cultivate their own new and unique perspectives on how to meet industry challenges. School helps individuals build a solid foundation in the field, but education doesn’t end on graduation day.
“With the rapid evolution of technology, most of what you learned five years ago is probably irrelevant,” he said. “The most valuable skill is the ability to learn new things.”
Dr Ansari stressed the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration. Solving complex problems requires a multidimensional approach. Knowing a subject in depth is commendable, but students and university program managers would be wise to operate from a broader perspective to add the most value to the work that will need to be done, she said.
“If we have learned one thing about the last 18 months, it is that we have to expect anything,” she said. “It’s the flexibility and the awareness that change is happening more often than we previously anticipated, and that will be the only constant moving forward. “
From the proliferation of self-driving cars, to launching data centers using solar power into orbit, to developing genetically engineered foods with a reduced environmental footprint, there are countless ways the next generation of technology will reshape. the world as we know it, the panelists said.
Dr Zhang said the convergence of nanotechnology, renewable energy, quantum computing, machine learning and computing “is already reshaping the world in ways we’ve never seen before” .
Information on future GW bicentennial events can be found at GW Bicentennial Celebration Website.