When the University of Colorado was founded in Boulder the same year as Colorado statehood in 1876, Colorado’s pioneering forefathers envisioned a long partnership between the state and the university.

But 143 years ago they could not have imagined a university that would orbit Mars, rocket past Pluto, send scientific instruments to every planet in the solar system and become NASA’s top-funded public university — all in partnership with its Colorado space industry partners.

Nor could they have imagined Colorado’s thriving 21st-century space economy. Colorado has the nation’s second largest aerospace economy with more than 500 companies employing 190,000.

Add to the equation a top 10 aerospace engineering program at CU Boulder and it’s exactly the kind of collaboration our state forefathers envisioned when they embedded CU’s public mission into the constitution in the state’s first year.

This fall, we took another step supporting Colorado’s aerospace industry by opening an aerospace hub that answers the call from industry to continue to fuel its growth with a skilled workforce and innovative research.

When we cut the ribbon on the 175,000 square-foot Aerospace Engineering Sciences Building in August, there to help us were CEOs and representatives from Ball Corp., United Launch Alliance, Lockheed Martin, Sierra Nevada, General Atomics and L3 Harris Technologies, all Colorado companies.

This new facility will meet the growing demand for aerospace talent, supplying a pipeline to companies such as Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and many others. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., CU’s first startup 64 years ago, employees 2,500 Coloradans including 500 CU Boulder graduates, adding 50 every year.

The new aerospace engineering facility is home to 1,400 students who will be the next generation of our aerospace workforce.

Last month, NASA astronauts Christine Koch and Jessica Meir completed the first all-female spacewalk in history, bringing new attention to the growing role of women in space exploration.

This year, five CU Boulder students were named Brooke Owens Fellows, a prestigious program for undergraduate women pursuing careers in aviation or space exploration. No other university had more. The work of students was also incorporated into the design of the new spacesuit that NASA unveiled this month.

This talent pipeline inspired Ball to donate more than $1 million to CU’s new facility. Our partnerships with Ball runs deep to include scholarships and Ball employee mentoring of underrepresented students.

Lockheed Martin, a charter supporter of the new hub, partners with us on curriculum, supports scholarships and endows faculty chairs.

Partnerships on NASA contracts with these industry leaders and others to produce weather and communication satellites, explore the solar system and find life in the universe, brings hundreds of millions of dollars into Colorado.

These are the academic-industry partnerships that move our state forward.

Colorado has a leadership role in the race to explore the moon, Mars and beyond and its public universities can help.

When NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine toured the new aerospace hub this fall he said “science books have been rewritten based on what has happened in Colorado.”

Our forefathers would be proud.

Philip DiStefano is chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Philip DiStefano is chancellor of the University of Colorado Boulder.


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