Beyond the Cradle

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Space Exploration Initiative

Space Exploration Initiative

2022 Speakers

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Ariel Ekblaw

Ariel Ekblaw

Ariel Ekblaw is the founder and Director of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative (SEI), 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 includes a portfolio of 40+ research projects focused on opening access to life in space, and supports an accelerator-like R&D program for payload development and spaceflight testing across MIT and many outreach communities. For the Initiative, Ariel drives space-related research across science, engineering, art, and design, and leads an annually recurring cadence of parabolic flights, sub-orbital launches, and missions to the International Space Station. Ariel graduated with a B.S. in Physics, Mathematics and Philosophy from Yale University and designed a novel space architecture habitat for her MIT PhD in autonomously self-assembling space structures. Her research work and the new startup lab she leads (Aurelia Institute) builds towards future habitats and space stations in orbit around the Earth, Moon, and Mars. 

Ariel’s work has been featured in 
WIRED (March 2020 cover story), MIT Technology ReviewHarvard Business Review, the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, CNN, NPR, PRI’s Science Friday, IEEE and AIAA proceedings, and more. Ariel serves on the NASA Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium (LSIC) Executive Committee, guiding and shaping the coming decade of burgeoning activity on the moon, and is the author/editor of “Into the Anthropocosmos: A Whole Space Catalog from the MIT Space Exploration Initiative,” now available from MIT Press. Ariel has had the rare honor and pleasure of working directly on space hardware that now operates on the surface of Mars and is currently leading MIT's 2022/2023 "To the Moon To Stay" lunar surface mission with a CLPS launch provider.


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Sydney Do

Sydney Do

Dr. Sydney Do is a Systems Engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he supports the development and operations of current and future robotic and human Mars missions.

He currently serves as Campaign Mission Systems Engineer and Terrain Interactions Lead for the joint NASA-ESA Mars Sample Return (MSR) Campaign, aimed at collecting and launching a carefully selected set of rock samples from the surface of Mars and returning them to Earth for further study. In this role, he manages the reconnaissance, selection, and certification of landing sites, rover traverse paths, and sample depot sites for the Campaign.

At the same time, he serves as Tactical Downlink Systems Engineer for the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover, where he supports the day-to-day assessment of rover health to inform tactical mission planning.

In addition, he also manages NASA’s Mars Water Mapping Projects, a multi-year series of studies aimed at mapping water distribution across the Martian surface and subsurface to inform selection of the landing site for the first human missions to Mars. 

He holds a Ph.D. in Space Systems Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a Master of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT, and a Bachelor of Engineering in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Sydney, Australia. Previously, he has worked in human spaceflight systems engineering, focusing on space habitation and life support, space logistics, and crewed spacecraft landing systems.

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Jaden Hastings

Jaden J. A. Hastings

Jaden J. A. Hastings is an expeditionary scientist specializing in the study of biotic life within the context of extreme and isolated conditions. Her passion for exploration drives her to descend deep into lava tubes, traverse thousands of miles of desert, or sail across The Drake to Antarctica.

Beginning with the Inspiration 4 mission, she led the development and implementation of a biobank for private astronauts at SpaceX along with a new multi-omics study of private astronauts across all launch providers with the support of her mentor Professor Christopher Mason at Weill Cornell Medicine. In 2018, she founded the Sensoria Program to offer program-level interdisciplinary research opportunities and training for aspiring space researchers. Jaden utilizes her role as an expert advisor and voting member to multiple global industry regulatory bodies to advocate for inclusive operational and safety standards that can secure a future for crewed spaceflight that is open to all. She is currently collaborating on the development of myriad multi-disciplinary experiments for upcoming suborbital, low Earth orbit, and Lunar missions.

Jaden’s doctoral research at the University of Melbourne explored and experimented with myriad forms of machine-driven biological evolution. After completing her undergraduate studies at New York University, she went on to complete graduate degrees from Harvard, Oxford, and Central Saint Martins. She is also an internationally exhibited artist and notable hacker.

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Mona Minkara

Mona Minkara

Dr. Mona Minkara, a blind assistant professor of Bioengineering at Northeastern University, advocate, and travel vlogger, lives by the maxim that vision is more than sight. As a computational chemist, Mona’s research explores pulmonary surfactants, which is a substance composed of lipids and proteins on the air/liquid interface of the lungs. Mona’s journey to science was unconventional. Raised in the Boston area with her two siblings by Lebanese immigrant parents, Mona was diagnosed with macular degeneration and cone-rod dystrophy at age seven. After pushing through the public school system, Mona ultimately obtained her undergraduate degree at Wellesley College, her doctoral degree in chemistry at the University of Florida, and held a postdoctoral position at the University of Minnesota for four years before coming home to Boston as a faculty member at Northeastern University.

At Northeastern, Mona’s COMBINE (Computational Modeling for BioInterface Engineering) Laboratory utilizes computational chemistry to study interactions that occur at biological interfaces. As a professor, Mona is deeply passionate about making scientific materials accessible to blind and low-vision individuals, especially students. Mona is involved with a number of organizations and committees, including the Chemists with Disabilities division of the American Chemical Society, Writing Science in Braille, and her own initiative, Blind Stem Curriculum. To further her goal of bringing awareness to low-vision independent travelers and thinkers, Mona documents her adventures globe-trotting the world using public transportation in her travel-vlogging YouTube series, Planes, Trains, and Canes.  

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Ari Melenciano

Ari Melenciano

Ari Melenciano is an artist, designer, and creative technologist whose research and practice explores the relationships between various forms of design and sentient experiences.

She is a creative technologist at Google's Creative Lab, professor at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Graduate Program, and founder of Afrotectopia, - a social institution that is imagining, researching, and building at the nexus of new media art, design, science, and technology through a Black and Afrocentric lens. Her award-winning work has been supported and exhibited by a variety of institutions including Sundance, The New Museum's New Inc, Nokia Bell Labs, Forbes, The New York Times, and The Studio Museum of Harlem. She is often guest lecturing at universities around the world.

She is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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Dava Newman

Dava Newman

Dava Newman is the director of the MIT Media Lab. She holds the Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics chair at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is a Harvard–MIT Health, Sciences, and Technology faculty member in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was named a MacVicar Faculty Fellow (a chair for making significant contributions to undergraduate education); and was the former Director of the Technology and Policy Program at MIT (2003–2015); and Director of the MIT–Portugal Program (2011–2015, 2017-present). She has been a faculty leader in Aeronautics and Astronautics and MIT’s School of Engineering for 28 years. She holds a top-secret clearance.

Dr. Dava Newman served as NASA Deputy Administrator (2015-2017). Nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate unanimously in April 2015. Along with the NASA Administrator, she was responsible for articulating the agency's vision, providing overall leadership and policy direction, and representing NASA to the Executive Office of the President, Congress, heads of federal government agencies, international space agencies, and industry. 

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Sarah Rosalena Brady

Sarah Rosalena Brady

Sarah Rosalena Brady (Huichol) is Assistant Professor of Art at UC Santa Barbara in Computational Craft and Haptic Media. Her work deconstructs technology with material interventions, creating new narratives for hybrid objects that function between human/nonhuman, ancient/future, handmade/autonomous to override power structures rooted in colonialism. Her research supports Indigenous mentorship and scholarship in art, science, and technology. She was recently given the Creative Capital Award, the LACMA Art + Tech Lab Grant, the Steve Wilson Award from Leonardo, the International Society for Art, Sciences, and Technology, Carolyn Glasoe Bailey Foundation Art Prize, and the Craft Futures Grant from the Center for Craft. She has presented her work at places such as Blum & Poe Gallery, LACMA, Frieze LA, and SOMArts Cultural Center. Her work is in the permanent collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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Rachel Rose

Rachel Rose 

The work of Rachel Rose explores how our changing relationship to landscape has shaped storytelling and belief systems. Rose’s films draw from and contribute to the long history of cinematic innovation; whether investigating cryogenics, the American Revolutionary War, or an astronaut’s space walk, Rose directs our attention to sites and histories in which the sublime and the everyday blur. She translates this in her paintings, sculptures and drawings, which materially reverberate with one another, connecting the immediate to deep time.

Rachel Rose (b. 1986) lives and works in New York. Recent solo exhibitions include: Pilar Corrias, London (2022); Gladstone Gallery, New York (2022); Pond Society, Shanghai (2020); Lafayette Anticipations, Paris (2020); Fridericianum, Kassel (2019); LUMA Foundation, Arles (2019); Pilar Corrias, London (2019); Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia (2018); Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin (2018); Kunsthaus Bregenz, Bregenz (2017); Pilar Corrias, London (2016); Museu Serralves, Porto (2016); The Aspen Art Museum, Aspen (2016); The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2015); Serpentine Gallery, London (2015); Castello di Rivoli, Turin (2015). Recent group exhibitions include: Schinkel Pavilion, Berlin (2021); Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, US (2021); Artspace, Sydney (2021); Art Sonje Center, Seoul (2021); A Tale of A Tub, Tlön Projects, Rotterdam (2021); Power Station of Art, Shanghai (2020); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2018); Carnegie International, 57th Edition, Pittsburgh (2018); 57th Venice Biennale (2017); 32nd São Paulo Biennial (2016); Hayward Gallery, London (2016); Okayama Art Summit, Japan (2016). She is the recipient of the Future Fields Award and the Frieze Artist Award.

Photo credit: Andrea Rossetti

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Sunanda Sharma

Sunanda Sharma

Sunanda Sharma is an interdisciplinary scientist and research affiliate with the MIT Space Exploration Initiative. She currently is focusing on astrobiology research at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and supporting the SHERLOC instrument on Mars 2020. She aims to understand the limits of life and the detection of biosignatures in diverse environments. She is passionate about interdisciplinary research and practices bio-integrated design to promote greater inclusion and understanding across fields and audiences.

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John Shoffner

John Shoffner

Growing up in the age of NASA’s Gemini program, spaceflight had a huge influence on Shoffner. This intrepid neighborhood band of 8-year-olds formed a young astronauts club and followed space and spaceflight like others followed sports. As a lifelong pilot, Shoffner is honored to now combine his love of aviation and spaceflight as a mission pilot along with Commander Peggy Whitson on Axiom’s Ax-2 mission to the International Space Station, launching in early 2023. The mission will advance multiple lines of research, explore hardware advances for future spaceflights, and conduct some impactful outreach to students in STEM programs.

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Zhaoyin Wang

Xin Liu

In her practice, Xin creates experiences/experiments to take measurements in our personal, social and technological spaces in a post-metaphysical world: between gravity and homeland, sorrow and the composition of tear, gene sequencing and astrology. She examines the discourse-power nexus as an active practitioner, an experimenter and a performer. Her recent research and interest center around the verticality of space, extraterrestrial explorations and cosmic metabolism.

Xin is the Arts Curator in the Space Exploration Initiative in MIT Media Lab, a member of the inaugural ONX studio program founded by New Museum and Onassis NY and Silver Arts Project in the World Trade Center. She is also an artist-in-residence in SETI Institute. She is recipient of numerous awards and residencies, including Porches Chinese Young Artist of the Year 2021, 30 under 30 Asia, X Museum Triennial Award, the Van Lier Fellowship from Museum of Arts and Design, Sundance New Frontier Story Lab, inaugural Europe ARTificial Intelligence Lab residency with Ars Electronica, SXSW Interactive Innovation Award, Core 77 Interaction Design Award, Fast Company Innovation by Design Award, Huayu Youth Award Finalist and Creative Capital On Our Radar. She has been commissioned by institutions including M+ Museum (Hong Kong), Ars Electronica (Austria), Rhizome (USA), Media Art Xploration Festival (USA), Onassis Foundation (US & Europe) and Abandon Normal Devices Festival (UK). She has joined several residency programs including Queens Museum Artist Studio program, New INC, Watermill Center and Pioneer Works. She is an advisor for LACMA Art+Tech Lab and a faculty member at The Terraforming, a new research program at Strelka Institute in 2020-2021.

Xin graduated from MIT Media Lab with a master degree in Media Arts and Sciences after her M.F.A from Rhode Island School of Design and B.E from Tsinghua University in Beijing (Measurement, Control Technology, and Instrument).

Photo Credit: Zhaoyin Wang

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Sana Sharma

Sana Sharma

Sana Sharma designs and builds experiences that connect people with emerging technologies.

She enjoys making complex subject matter accessible and engaging — she has designed and built experiences for healthcare, AI, quantum computing, and outer space, incorporating both scientific context and human needs into her work. She is currently a designer and researcher at the MIT Space Exploration Initiative, and develops visualizations for genomics applications at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

In the past, she has worked with the Emerging Technology Experiences (ETX) team at IBM Research, as a UX researcher for Watson Health, and has taught design to engineering students at the Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design.

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Dylan Taylor

Dylan Taylor

Dylan Taylor is a global business leader and philanthropist. He is an active pioneer in the space exploration industry as a CEO, investor, commercial astronaut, thought leader and futurist. Currently, Dylan serves as Chairman & CEO of Voyager Space, a multi-national space exploration firm.

Dylan has been cited by Harvard University, SpaceNews, the BBC, Pitchbook, CNBC and others as having played a seminal role in the growth of the private space industry. As an early-stage investor in more than 50 emerging ventures, including York, Astrobotic, Relativity, and Planet, Dylan is widely considered the most active private space investor in the world.

Dylan Taylor earned an MBA in Finance and Strategy from the Booth School of Business at University of Chicago and holds a BS in Engineering from the honors college at the University of Arizona, where he graduated Tau Beta Pi and in 2018 was named Alumnus of the year. The World Economic Forum recognized Dylan as a Young Global Leader in 2011 and he was named a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute in 2014.

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Jeffrey Schifman for Columbia Engineering

Mike Massimino

Mike Massimino, a former NASA astronaut, is a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University and the senior advisor for space programs at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. He received a BS from Columbia University, and MS degrees in mechanical engineering and in technology and policy, as well as a PhD in mechanical engineering, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

After working as an engineer at IBM, NASA, and McDonnell Douglas Aerospace, along with academic appointments at Rice University and at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Mike was selected as an astronaut by NASA in 1996, and is the veteran of two space flights, the fourth and fifth Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions in 2002 and 2009. Mike has a team record for the number of hours spacewalking in a single space shuttle mission, and he was also the first person to tweet from space. During his NASA career he received two NASA Space Flight Medals, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the American Astronautical Society’s Flight Achievement Award, and the Star of Italian Solidarity.

Mike has made numerous television appearances, including a six-time recurring role as himself on the CBS hit comedy The Big Bang Theory. He has hosted Science Channel’s The Planets and its special Great American Eclipse. He is featured in National Geographic Channel’s series One Strange Rock and is the host for Science Channel’s series The Planets and Beyond. He is a frequent guest on television news and talk show programs, including NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, and CNN. He has also appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman and the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and on StarTalk radio and television shows.

Mike’s book, Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe, has received rave reviews and is a New York Times best-seller. Mike's new book, Spaceman: The True Story of a Young Boy’s Journey to Becoming an Astronaut, a young adult version of his previously published autobiography, is scheduled for publication on April 7th, 2020. He is a recipient of the 2017 Christopher Award, the 2017 Columbia University Community Impact Outstanding Community Service Award, the 2017 National Space Club Communications Award, and in 2018 was inducted into the Long Island Air and Space Hall of Fame. The street that Mike grew up on in Franklin Square, Long Island has been renamed “Mike Massimino Street.”

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Christian Maender

Christian Maender

Director, In-Space Manufacturing & Research, Axiom Space

A key architect of the planning, design, technical integration, and execution of microgravity research and technology demonstrations on the International Space Station, Christian Maender brings his unique expertise to Axiom’s leadership in offering microgravity as a next-generation platform for innovation and discovery. He directs Axiom’s conversations with in-space manufacturing and research customers.

Prior to joining Axiom, Christian’s 17-year NASA career included roles as Technical Liaison for ISS Mission Integrations & Operations, ISS National Lab Deputy Manager for Commercial Utilization, Chair of the ISS Research Planning Working Group, and Increment Payload Manager. He has an extensive history working with a variety of customers to expand commercialization of the ISS and bring commercial in-space research and manufacturing services into the ISS National Lab.

Christian is the recipient of numerous awards including the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal and a co-author on a litany of publications derived from ISS research in which he participated. He holds both a B.S. and M.S. in biomechanical engineering from Tulane University.

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Timiebi Aganaba

Timiebi Aganaba

Timiebi is an assistant professor of Space and Society, in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, an affiliate faculty with the Interplanetary Initiative, a senior global futures scientist with the Global Futures Lab, and holds a courtesy appointment at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, all at Arizona State University. Timiebi was a post-doctoral fellow and is a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) based in Waterloo, Ontario Canada where she focused on environmental and space governance.

Timiebi was Executive Director of the World Space Week Association coordinating the global response to the UN 1999 declaration that World Space Week should be celebrated Oct 4-10 annually. She is currently on the Advisory Board for the Space Generation Advisory Council supporting the UN Programme on Space Applications. She is also on the Science Advisory Board of World View Enterprises and the SETI Institute.

Other positions include 4 years as a space industry consultant for the leading space analyst firm in Montreal, Canada where Timiebi led a pipeline of commercialization studies for the Canadian Space Agency and led the socio aspects of a socioeconomic assessment of the Canadian space sector.

She was also a teaching associate (France, 2008) and associate chair (Ireland, 2017) of the space policy, law and economics department at the International Space University, and an associate at Kayode Sofola and Associates law firm. She was an NYSC Corp at the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency, where she spent a year in the legal affairs and international cooperation department.

Timiebi has represented Nigeria at the UN as a Next Generation Aviation Professional at the International Civil Aviation Organization Model Council in Montreal (2014) and at the Legal subcommittee of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer space in Vienna (2011).

In 2017, Timiebi was the recipient of a Space Leaders Award from the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) and her doctorate received the George and Ann Robinson Award for advanced research capabilities.

An avid and passionate communicator, Timiebi has been featured in the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, NPR, LA Times, the Telegraph and Business Insider amongst others! She hosted and produced the 12 episode Ladies do Launch podcast and has acted as an international moderator for high level events such as the Dubai Expo 2020.

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Scott Poteet

Scott "Kidd" Poteet

Scott “Kidd” Poteet is a retired United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who served 20 years in various roles that include Commander of the 64th Aggressor Squadron, USAF Thunderbird #4 Demonstration Pilot, USAF Weapons School Graduate, Operational Test & Evaluation Pilot, and Flight Examiner.  Kidd is a command pilot with over 3,200 flying hours in the F-16, A-4, T-38, T-37, T-3, and Alpha Jet.  Kidd has logged over 400 hours of combat time during Operations Northern Watch, Southern Watch, Joint Guardian, Freedom’s Sentinel, and Resolute Support.

Following his Air Force career, Kidd served in various roles to include Director of Business Development at Draken International and VP of Strategy at Shift4 (NYSE: FOUR). He most recently served as the Mission Director of Inspiration4, the world’s first all-civilian mission to space that helped raise over $240 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in an effort to help eradicate childhood cancer. Kidd is also an accomplished collegiate runner and triathlete, competing in 15 Ironman triathlons since 200, which includes four Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

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Ravi Kopparapu

Ravi Kumar Kopparapu

Dr. Ravi Kumar Kopparapu is a planetary scientist  with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Kopparapu's research interests are in extrasolar planet habitability, atmosphere modeling and characterization. Specifically, he uses 1-dimensional and 3-dimensional climate and photochemical models to determine the conditions needed for a terrestrial planet to sustain liquid water on it's surface. Life as we know it requires liquid water; therefore, finding worlds around other stars and identifying the signatures of surface water can potentially allow us to discover extraterrestrial life. Kopparapu is also interested in super-Earth and mini-Neptune atmospheres and their characterization. There are no such planets in our solar system, so they provide an excellent opportunity to study planets that are totally new to us.

Kopparapu is also interested in identifying technosignatures. Just as biosignatures are signs of biology, technosignatures are a signs of technology. This field is in its nascent stage, just as biosignatures were several decades ago, so now is a good time to get involved.