Sights and sounds from the 36th Space Symposium, the world's largest space show, held at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. (Video by Skyler Ballard)

Space companies need more than faster computers, better rockets and state-of-the-art satellites. With the industry booming, young workers are a top priority. That's why the Space Symposium, a four day convention bringing together the leaders of aerospace and defense industries in Colorado Springs, focused on the next generation of space leaders during Monday's events.

Over 7,000 participants gathered at the symposium to learn, network and share ideas. Monday's events revolved around leaders from NASA, Space Force and a host of defense and aerospace companies providing mentorship and networking opportunities to young professionals under the age of 35. 

Meagan Crawford, the managing partner of SpaceFund, a venture capital firm for space companies, and the host of the podcast Mission Eve, said every company she works with is consistently looking for more people and more talent.

"It's just about getting the word out and about making space accessible," Crawford said.

One of the major obstacles in getting more people and more diversity into the industry is the misunderstanding among the public that space is only about building rockets, Crawford said.

"We're talking about real businesses that need all the same skillsets as every other industry," Crawford said.

Engineers such as Emma Watson, a 27-year-old working for Moog, Inc., a space and defense company that manufactures space electronics and software, believes young professionals like herself provide an asset to a rapidly growing field.

"You do have to be creative in problem solving," Watson said. "And that's the part I love about being a younger engineer, is I'm not so engrained and I haven't necessarily seen it all so I can think more creatively."

The need for fresh creativity is crucial because the space industry impacts life on earth in innumerable ways from map apps and studying climate change to developing cancer drugs and measuring agricultural yields, said Alexandra Coultrup, a 28-year-old M.S. graduate in space policy working for Nanoracks, a private company, which helps provide access to space, launching research payloads into low-orbit and small satellites to the International Space Station.

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"I really appreciate that they have this young professionals track here at the conference," Coultrup said. "...it's helpful to have more resources and more mentors. I know that coming to symposium in 2019 did help me get my bearings."

But funneling young professionals into the aerospace industry depends on investing in students at a young age, said Don Rabern, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science at University of Colorado Colorado Springs. 

"Most of the research out there suggests if you’re going to make progress on that front, you need to do it in the K-12 area," Rabern said.

But when it comes to inspiring college age students in aerospace, Rabern said ensuring that job opportunities await students at the end of a degree program is vital.

That's why the university started a partnership with U.S. Space Force to help strengthen the pipeline of graduates into military and civilian aerospace sectors and expand research opportunities at the university for new space technology. 

"As a public intuition, we have a job to serve a student base with lots and lots of options to set them up for successful careers,” Rabern said. "But we also have an obligation to provide an education to students for workforces development for our industries."

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