Hackernoon logoSymbiosis: The Need For Stronger Communities in the Space Industry by@monimissioncontrol

Symbiosis: The Need For Stronger Communities in the Space Industry

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@monimissioncontrolMonica Hernandez

Space. Tech. Futures that empower. Research conducted | views expressed are my own.

Symbiosis. The more complex the ecosystem, the more nuanced the relationships. All organic life depends on the broader ecosystem for food, energy, survival, and reproduction.

Our species is no different.

It flourishes when we harness the flow of energy that derives from cooperation. Our civilization depends on the strength of our communities. We need each other to survive and thrive.   

In the same way that evolutionary biology teaches us that rich organic life ecosystems depend on symbiotic relationships, the space industry requires sustained and engaged networks over time.

No single space mission or space business initiative operates as a stand-alone. Space research, travel, and exploration challenge us like no other industry. 

For several years now, there is a lot of enthusiasm and passion in the space industry. The newspace movement in this regard seeks to open up the business of space to new players in the private sector and advocate for increased public-private alliances.

I have met numerous brilliant professionals in these newspace communities. From different backgrounds and with unique journeys, many shatter the myth of an ideal career path to the space sector. For the record, there is none. There are a variety of talent stacks across disciplines and businesses. 

I have wanted to write an article for some time now about some of these professionals. I had the opportunity to connect with three recently. These are some snippets of wisdom about their personal stories. In their voices, read how they work to build thriving communities in the industry.

Bianca 

Bianca Cefalo is a rocket scientist. She is also the current Director of International Business Development & Marketing at Carbice Corporation and Founding Director of Cosmica Space Consulting Ltd. Originally from Naples (Italy), Bianca has been based in the United Kingdom for several years now. She also serves as an advisor, speaker, and STEM ambassador for youth and women. 

Bianca Cefalo. December 2020.

The space bug

I’m an accidental rocket scientist. My interest in engineering starts early on because my Dad used to work with cars. I liked what my Dad was doing with cars mainly spare parts and I enjoyed just staying in the garage. This is important because no one in my family had the sort of elite higher education. No one was an engineer. But being in Italy you get access to seeing a beautiful Ferrari and to see how it’s actually done. What is at the core of that piece of machine. Every Sunday I would watch Formula 1. I wouldn’t watch it as something that was male-dominated… I just loved seeing the competition, the teamwork, and how being high-tech is to go beyond the limits of what you see every day.  

The tipping point

Specializing in aero and fluid dynamics engineering, I realized that I could join the beautiful color side of things with high-tech designs… How do you basically give life and colorful patterns to the air that is all around us and that we take for granted? That was my magic and my niche. Later, as I progressed in my studies, I realized that I could apply this entire specialization of fluid dynamics to aircraft and spacecraft, especially re-entry capsules and hypersonic vehicles.
Then, when I saw the NASA/JPL InSight Mars Mission land in November 2018, after I had worked on one of the scientific instruments onboard the Lander, it went from starting just another job to understanding what my mission in the world is. Unlike generations before me, where people would start a project only to see it launch 20 years later, I helped build something that I saw landing on Mars. The more I kept studying, learning, and working, the more I understood how my work could impact humanity as a whole. Because how technologies advance in space, and as a consequence on Earth, changes how we communicate and evolve as a species.

Mentors and guideposts

I had to navigate mostly everything by myself. In many ways, this gave me a higher competitive edge because I had to make it happen on my own. I had to find the opportunities to get in. This was especially obvious being a woman. It motivated me even more...
In retrospect, what I am doing right now and reaching out to young people and women evolves from the fact that I didn’t have that myself. To the young girls that I meet, talk, and listen to, I notice that some are frightened because they feel out of place. I tell them we feel out of place every day in the space industry. Every day there is a new challenge. Every day there is something that we haven’t seen before.

Bianca Cefalo on Campus Media. November 2020.

Community building and visions of possible futures 

I started creating a community, which I didn’t have before. I’m not just supporting the younger ones. I also feel encouraged to go to senior women who have been there for the past years and have a wealth of knowledge. I feel supported because I can actually share concerns and ask for advice about startups, venture capital, funding, etc.  
I would like to see more conversations and research about how to use more consciously our advancements in space. We will not be just talking about machines, rovers, robots going to space or leaving Earth. We will be talking about humans. How do we make sure that we don’t repeat the same mistakes on Earth, especially if a new species comes around. 

George

George Pullen is Co-Founder and Chief Space Economist at the Milky Way Economy. With deep expertise in the banking and financial sectors, George is also the Co-Host of the Space Economy Show at the Space Channel, a university professor, and a frequent speaker. He co-authored the book Blockchain and the Space Economy. This book is the first in the Space Economy Series.

George Pullen. December 2020.

The space bug

I grew up in a household in Maine (USA), where none of my parents were in the space industry. But we were immersed in space early on by following what NASA was doing, and also by tuning in to the cinema about space, Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, and so on… My parents' first date was going to watch Return of the Jedi.

The tipping point

For me, it always was about understanding how the markets were moving, what that movement would do to the larger economy, and what that meant for the profitable trading opportunities. This experience set me up for what I’m doing now. What I’m passionate about right now is the same alternative markets, what’s new, and what’s the future. We live in unique times. I believe we’re in the middle of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where we see the convergence of technologies.

Introduction to the Space Economy. George Pullen. February 2020.

I see a lot of people talking about individual billionaires making big plays for their businesses or conversations around what NASA is doing and not necessarily from an economics or finance perspective. A potential road map for the business of space is to reach US$4 trillion in the next few decades… The idea of plugging into an industry that has the potential of having a 10x effect should be something that people pay attention to. That’s when I started talking with my partner and co-founder about outlining a book, TV show, and an educational platform that could plug this information into the larger community and spread the message… 

Mentors and guideposts

My biggest mentor in finance and economics was one of my professors Dr. Robert A. Strong, CFA. He shared a background in the military like me. I saw what he did being a success on boards, in business, being an advisor, being a professor. I thought to myself that’s a roadmap for me. In terms of science and space, now more than ever we have access to all of people’s ideas in social networks and podcasts. I can track what’s going on and plug into these avatar mentors.

Community building and visions of possible futures

There’s a ton of people who love to watch these big launches. When those events capture the attention of millions of people, there’s a subsection that is not being engaged with. The lack of narrative going out to the community of supporters about what else is going on. Some businesses and startups are working on new technologies and tech transfer programs… You need a community that encourages others to start and that also supports it. There’s also a lack of narrative around the number of partnerships occurring in space.  
I am excited about putting out content that can be used as educational content. I want to frame it so that students can think of space as a business venture and not just as something that we can marvel at. I want people to understand and think of the business of space and how it relates to their future and their businesses and respective industries. I hope that my show reaches a lot of people that way. I’d like to see the community grow.

Samson

An anthropologist by training, Samson Williams is Co-Founder of the Milky Way Economy and Co-Host of the Space Economy Show at the Space Channel. Samson also co-authored the book Blockchain and the Space Economy with George. A university professor as well, Samson is a frequent speaker, advisor, and management consultant.

Samson Williams. January 2021.

The space bug

I grew up in east Texas (USA) in the eighties in the middle of nowhere when you could still see the Milky Way. We didn’t have light pollution. I always wondered what was up there. I also grew up watching sci-fi, Battlestar Galactica, the Star Trek series, and the spin-offs, NextGen, Voyager, Deep Space Nine. Sci-fi can be an escape. When you can dream, you always want to get off Earth. Now, as an adult, I can go out and be part of the space economy. 

The tipping point

I had been trying to calculate for some time what one pomegranate costs on Mars, just in the sense of cryptocurrency and blockchain. The Martian economy doesn’t run on dollars. It is a completely new system of value and money. In this new system, you’re going to need to use blockchain to encrypt those records of debt. 

Samson Williams on Bitcoin Live. December 2020.

I went with George to the Air and Space Museum some time back. When you stand in front of a 100ft rocket, the space economy becomes a whole lot clear. I look at it from how you’re going to fund the space economy. You need money to get into space, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses. Otherwise, it’s just going to be dominated by the big guys SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin. If you don’t have the smaller players helping build it, you don’t have an ecosystem. If you don't have an ecosystem, you don’t have a real economy. It's not sustainable.

Mentors and guideposts

I have met mentors along the way. You typically just need to listen. There are so many smart and incredible folks in the industry. My favorite person at the moment is Dr. Sian Proctor, also an analog astronaut. She often articulates the approach that when you solve for space, you solve for Earth. This approach is particularly important when you’re speaking with politicians and legislators. I talk to her on a semi-regular basis. Every time I talk with her, I learn something new.   
I represent Black people and Brown people in my work. When I go to meetings, it makes sense for me to articulate that we should have more diversity, inclusion, and representation in the rooms. It will make it a little easier for my nieces and nephews to go and open doors.

Community building and visions of possible futures

I also look at the space economy from the human perspective. Once you introduce the human element, space exploration gets nuanced. Rockets can pull whatever Gs the hardware can sustain, but humans blackout. For us to have a permanent settlement in the Moon, Mars, and beyond, it’s just not physics. It also involves human psychology. Probably the first quadrillionaire in space will be a she who masters the psychological aspects. We also need to be able to reproduce in space against a backdrop of radiation, cosmic rays, etc. As a species, we have evolved only on Earth.
I want to see more women in space, particularly Black, Latino, and women of color. When they're represented and at the table, it's helpful for the space community and the space economy. Also, words matter. If you send a warrior to space, they’re there to fight. It’s a different sentiment if you send space explorers or sentinels. Right now, we’re gearing up to go to battle. We’re using the words. Our words have meanings. We need to change the way we articulate what humans do in space.

Our futures in space depends on the strength of our community-building 

More than our abilities to imagine, create, and build cutting-edge technologies, what distinguishes us from other species is the ability to envision and co-create the futures we want. The space industry requires us to think beyond our comfort zones and any perceived limitations.

Bianca, George, and Samson are some of the many professionals in the industry that actively build a sense of community in their distinctive ways. George and Samson often seek partnerships with universities, community colleges, and technical colleges to raise awareness and visibility about future vocations needed in space. Bianca also makes it a point to visit schools and educational centers often and connect with organizations overseas as a STEM ambassador. By conducting workshops and actively engaging with different people across sectors, all tackle fears and stereotypes head-on.

Our futures in space and on Earth depend on the strength of our bonds. Nobody arrives alone. The energy in robust and engaged communities is precious. Community-building can serve as a resource among people who wouldn’t have otherwise considered entering the space industry. If you’re in the space industry, remember to continue to open doors and help build ladders. If you’re reading this and want to break in, don’t ask permission. We need the most cooperation and energy that we can harness to become a multi-planetary species. 


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Credits for the artwork featured at the top banner and throughout the article: OUR JOURNEY (2015) – MIGHTY_KONGBOT (Domenico Barra & Luigi Console, Italy). Images are courtesy of the Leo Kuelbs Collection.

Born and raised in Naples, Domenico Barra is a prolific and self-taught artist specialized in new digital media and glitch art. Domenico has exhibited his work extensively in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the United States since 2010. Some of his digital works are also part of decentralized curatorial projects on blockchain technologies. Domenico shared the following with me about his artwork. 

Artists are nodes of a network of a community… The inspiration for this particular video comes from a fellow glitch artist, Nick Briz. Nick depicted the work of a glitch artist as that of an explorer. By trying to figure out and understand computers through their errors (glitches), glitch art is a journey in the ever-changing digital landscape… 
I wanted to visually portray what was my path through this journey as I became a glitch artist. I partnered with a friend to build this glitch landscape by experimenting with one of the most complex and popular satellite imagery software options, Google Earth. It was an opportunity to simulate a drone traveling on Earth and in space. This opportunity forced us to think beyond the software and the hardware.

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