How the Study of Space is Improving Life on Earth

During NASA’s 1960s Apollo missions, many people turned their dreams skyward hoping to one day visit the cosmos. Today, Ariel Ekblaw, founder and director of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative, is working on turning those dreams into reality while uncovering ways to improve life on Earth.

An eloquent communicator whose future-focused work has leaders in every sector paying close attention, Ekblaw is on a mission to democratize space exploration.

At MIT, she oversees more than 50 scholars and 80 member companies who are driving space-related research across fields as diverse as aerospace engineering, synthetic neurobiology, architecture, design, robotics and AI, tourism and the arts. Much of her team’s research is focused on the day-to-day experience of life in space — the tools we use, the food we eat, the spaces we occupy. Her ongoing discoveries, which provide a window into the future of work and life, have major implications for businesses and governments, fueling innovative thinking and inspiring endless possibilities for new inventions and new ways of living. In the process, she is galvanizing the next generation of scientists and explorers, increasing access to knowledge, and engaging global citizens.

“In some way, we are each stewards of the final frontier,” explains Ekblaw, an enthusiastic champion of space exploration. “It’s time to open space to everyone so we can build humanity’s interplanetary future together — responsibly, creatively, and audaciously.”

An expert in space habitats and editor of the forthcoming book, “Into the Anthropocosmos: A Whole Space Catalog from the MIT Space Exploration Initiative” (The MIT Press, October 2021), Ekblaw’s personal research is centered on the TESSERAE platform, a self-assembling geodesic architecture for space stations and orbital tourism. Her broader work is informing such areas as sustainable agriculture, urban renewal, natural disaster preparation, climate change adaptation, and the future of human culture in space. In addition to working closely with several international space agencies, she advises Fortune 100 companies and space industry non-profits, helping leaders understand such concepts as low-Earth orbit (LEO), emerging markets, our lunar and martian prospects in this decade, and traffic and waste management in LEO environments.

Optimistic about the future, Ekblaw’s central message is that space exploration is not about an urge to escape the Earth. It’s about a better vision for humanity.

“The Earth is the best home humanity will ever have,” she says. “Space exploration isn’t about abandoning that. We co-evolved with our planet to survive here, and all of our work should come back to benefit life on Earth in practical, environmentally-conscious and humanitarian ways.”

Marianne Kelly: