The Space Foundation in Colorado Springs has launched a program to help solve one of the most vexing problem in the space business: not enough people on the ground.
The outreach program will target students and adults to show them how they can fit in the booming business of space, one of the few areas of the economy that is starving for workers despite the impacts of the coronavirus. And the people needed include skills from public relations to engineering.
“It’s not just astronauts and rocket scientists,” Space Foundation boss Tom Zelibor said.
The push for more space workers comes as NASA successfully launched a manned American mission for the first time in nearly a decade. It’s an event that Zelibor hopes will raise the profile of space work as Americans struggle through the highest unemployment since the Great Depression.
“We want students, young leaders, entrepreneurs and professionals,” Zelibor said.
The foundation, with its headquarters off Garden of the Gods Road, convenes the biggest conference in the space business. The Space Symposium was delayed by the coronavirus and has been rescheduled to start Oct. 31.
The annual gathering draws more than 14,000 people to The Broadmoor, including the world’s top rocket scientists and military leaders. The symposium in recent years has emphasized courting students and young professionals, with events designed to introduce them to space and show off the opportunities of the booming business that now includes a string of start-up companies like SpaceX, which is conducting the manned launch for NASA.
But Zelibor said relying on the Space Symposium to grow the space workforce isn’t enough.
“This needs to be a 365-day a year effort,” he said.
So, the foundation launched its Center for Innovation and Education that will drive a year-round push to grow space workers.
Zelibor said the effort starts with students, with the foundation bringing programs to schools that help make children aware of the space industry and the wide variety of jobs it offers.
“Space is inspiring because people really get jacked up about it,” Zelibor said.
The program grows from there to include college outreach and partnerships to assist small businesses and entrepreneurs in entering the space industry.
It is a $415 billion industry that experts at the foundation predict will continue its wild growth for years to come, reaching as much as $3 trillion in the next 20 years.
“Every person on planet Earth can find a place in the space economy,” Zelibor said.
In Colorado Springs, the space business has drawn a flock of new firms, with satellite control and monitoring space junk leading the pack. Aerospace and defense industries make up an estimated 40% of the economy in the Pikes Peak region, and Colorado ranks second nationally for the size of its space workforce.
But the Space Foundation worries that the shortfall in qualified workers will only grow in the coming years unless significant efforts are made.
The foundation has taken its concept for a test flight. A grant from the federal Commerce Department helped with a program aimed at getting minority-owned businesses into the space economy. The businesses that took part have already netted $200 million in contracts, Zelibor said.
A second test introduced the Junior Space Entrepreneur Program into high schools in Denver. Backed by defense giant Lockheed Martin, the program drew 50 students and won national awards for its innovative approach
“I firmly believe you have to start while the kids are at a younger age and get them excited about it,” Zelibor said.
The foundation is aiming high with its program, with plans to expand around the globe.
“It’s not just national its international,” Zelibor said.
And it’s a program that can deliver hope even as businesses shed workers amid the pandemic.
“We want people to be aware that is no better time to be part of the space economy,” Zelibor said. “Now is the perfect time.”