UH students, aerospace enthusiasts inspired by SpaceX launches


Cristobella Durrette

This article originally appeared in The Daily Cougar, the student newspaper for the University of Houston.

Space travel achievements by SpaceX in 2020 have been inspiring for UH students interested in aerospace and astronautics. 

The American aerospace manufacturer partnered with NASA to launch a crew of four astronauts to the International Space Station in November aboard the first NASA-certified commercial human spacecraft. It was the company’s second launch with humans on board, the first making history in May as the first commercially built and operated American crew spacecraft to travel to the International Space Station. 

“I think the recent developments really showcase the importance of collaboration between the public and private sector,” said Kelly Graham, president of the UH chapter for American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “It also lights an interest in STEM, especially space-related STEM, in younger people … We will need every passionate person to contribute their best to this field if we wish to get beyond the moon.”

Home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center and a hub for human spaceflight activity, Houston’s presence at the forefront of the space industry has made UH home for projects and organizations dedicated to exploring the possibilities of space travel, including AIAA-UH. 

In addition to career development opportunities, the organization also includes three engineering teams: Space City Rocketry, Space City UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) and the Hobby Rocket Team. Participants design, build and launch rockets or radio-controlled fixed wing planes. Those in Space City Rocketry and Space City UAV go head to head with other colleges in competitions.

Launches like the recent SpaceX rocket are social events for AIAA-UH members. They host Zoom parties to watch and discuss the takeoffs. 

“We invite all members of AIAA-UH to watch and … before liftoff, we all get to talk and nerd out with each other on the specs and mission parameters,” Graham said. 

For Graham, SpaceX’s manned rocket launches mark an opportunity to expand space travel beyond NASA’s previous capabilities. 

“It really opens up a world of possibilities, since something holding NASA back from looking beyond (low Earth orbit) was that they still required tons of investment in flying to the ISS to learn more to continue to explore beyond Earth,” Graham said. 

“But now, emerging sectors of commercialized space travel can allow NASA to pivot to other aspects of spaceflight and rely on (other) chapter options for travel … not having to create its own exact transportation method could allow NASA to spend more resources (elsewhere),” Graham added. 

Computer science senior and public relations coordinator for AIAA-UH Caleb Ballard sees SpaceX’s November mission as a historic small step for man, but a leap for the future of space travel. 

“It brings humanity one step closer to becoming a multi-planetary species and making space travel as normal as air travel,” Ballard said. 

“SpaceX is making history with it being among one of the first private companies to take space travel into commercial territories. They are proving that private companies … can do just as good and perhaps a better job than government-run space organizations when it comes to space travel,” Ballard continued. 

Electrical engineering sophomore Nicole Burke also sees the manned SpaceX launch as an important stepping stone to future space travel developments. 

“It is not really the fact that they got people to the ISS that means a lot to me, it is more the fact that it is their first step to getting people further into space and even hopefully to Mars eventually,” Burke said. “I think (SpaceX) will be the ones to eventually get humans to Mars.” 

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