Ariel Ekblaw

Visiting Scientist
  • Space Exploration Initiative


Ariel Ekblaw (@ariel_ekblaw) 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. For the Initiative, Ariel drives space-related research across science, engineering, art, and design, and charters an annually recurring cadence of parabolic flights, sub-orbital, and orbital launch opportunities. Ariel 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. 

In addition to the broader Initiative portfolio, her personal research builds on her MIT PhD (completed September 2020) in space architecture and the TESSERAE platform: Tessellated Electromagnetic Space Structures for the Exploration of Reconfigurable, Adaptive Environments. This work explores autonomously self-assembling space architecture for future space tourist habitats and space stations in orbit around the Earth, Moon, and Mars. 

Ariel brings a humanist approach to her research at MIT, with undergraduate degrees in Physics, and Mathematics and Philosophy from Yale University, and a master's in distributed systems from the MIT Media Lab. Ariel’s 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’s work has been featured in WIRED (March 2020 cover story), MIT Technology Review, Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, CNN, NPR, IEEE and AIAA proceedings, and more. Humanity stands on the cusp of interplanetary civilization and space is our next, grand frontier. This opportunity to design our interplanetary lives beckons to us—Ariel strives to bring our space exploration future to life.


Previously, in the Viral Communications group at the Media Lab, Ariel researched and prototyped distributed systems technologies that "scale with user inventiveness". Her projects explored digital currencies, applications for blockchain (Bitcoin’s cryptographic protocol), and decentralized networks, including the MEDREC project.