The Aspen Institute’s Conversations with Great Leaders Series, in Memory of Preston Robert Tisch, hosted a virtual discussion that considers the challenges facing our society and planet as we look up and out. Will our future include space travel for the average person? Will we inhabit other planets and, if so, how do we go about preparing for that time? Can what we learn from preparing for such a future benefit us now? And what are the implications of human space travel for the economy, international relations, and the environment here on Earth? Moderated by Marina Koren (Staff Writer at The Atlantic), this conversation will feature Charles F. Bolden, Jr. (12th NASA Administrator and Founder & CEO Emeritus of The Charles F. Bolden Group), Ariel Ekblaw (Founder and Director of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative), and David Munns (Associate Professor of the History of Science and Technology at CUNY’s John Jay College and co-author of Far Beyond the Moon: A History of Life Support Systems in the Space Age).
The Honorable Charles F. Bolden Jr., Major General, United States Marine Corps (Ret.). was the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from July 2009 until January 2017. Bolden’s 34-year career with the Marine Corps included 14 years as a member of NASA’s Astronaut Office. After joining the office in 1980, he traveled into orbit four times aboard the space shuttle between 1986 and 1994, commanding two of the missions and piloting two others. Today, in addition to his numerous professional affiliations, General Bolden serves as the Founder and CEO Emeritus of The Charles F. Bolden Group, providing leadership in the areas of Space/Aerospace Exploration, National Security, STEM+AD Education and Health Initiatives. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Naval Academy and a Master of Science degree from the University of Southern California.
Ariel Ekblaw, Ph.D., is the founder and Director of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative, a team of over 50 graduate students, staff, and faculty actively prototyping the artifacts of our sci-fi space future. Founded in 2016, the Initiative now includes a portfolio of 40+ research projects focused on life in space (from astrobiology to space habitats) and supports an accelerator-like R&D program that enables a broad range of payload development. She forges collaborations on this work with MIT departments and space industry partners, while mentoring Initiative research projects and providing technical advice for all mission deployments. Her prior work experience includes supersymmetry research and big data programming at the CERN Particle Physics Laboratory, user-centered design and product development at Microsoft Azure, microgravity research with NASA, and Mars2020 rover hardware systems engineering at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Ariel received her undergraduate degree in Physics, Mathematics and Philosophy from Yale University, a Master’s from the MIT Media Lab and Ph.D. from MIT.
David Munns, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of the History of Science and Technology at John Jay College, CUNY. His published work encompasses the history of modern life and physical sciences and technology, environmental history, Anthropocene studies, and waste studies. His most recent book (co-authored with Karin Nickelsen), Far Beyond the Moon: A History of Life Support Systems in the Space Age, reveals how the development of artificial life support systems were as important as the development of rockets in the space age. Dr. Munns earned his M. Phil from the University of Sydney and his Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University.
Marina Koren is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers all things space, from astronaut missions and robotic explorers to the wonders of the solar system and beyond. She has written dispatches from Cape Canaveral in Florida, NASA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., and SpaceX’s launch site in South Texas, the last of which appeared in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2021. Before working in science journalism, Marina was a breaking-news and political reporter.
The Aspen Institute is grateful to Steve Tisch, Laurie Tisch, Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch, and to the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund for their generous support of this program.
This program is produced in partnership with the Aspen Institute Science & Society Program.