Jul 14

The First Annual John Glenn Memorial Symposium, organized by the American Astronautical Society (AAS) in conjunction with the NASA Glenn Research Center, brought leading minds in the fields of aviation and aerospace together at the Global Health Center for Innovation in Cleveland, Ohio. The symposium featured a tour of NASA's Plum Brook facility on Wednesday, July 10, whereas Thursday and Friday included presentations and panels from individuals on the frontlines of research, development and innovation for the future of flight and space exploration. This article will focus on the main takeaways from those proceedings.

One of the repeating themes of the symposium was that the first steps toward humanity's first steps on Mars are well underway. The possibility of a new lunar satellite dubbed "Gateway" and its key role in the Martian experiment as a jumping off point makes the impending voyage all the more interesting. The coming years will be full of more developments on this mission once the ball gets rolling faster and faster.

Before anyone makes the trip to Mars, an exciting lunar expedition is on the not-so-distant horizon. The Artemis series of missions, named after Apollo's twin sister, are slated to put the first woman on the moon in 2024 - an ambitious, yet achieveable timeline according to a panel of astronauts who took the stage near the end of the symposium. To those who question the reason for returning to the moon, former astronaut and International Space Station (ISS) occupant Doug Wheelock says there is a lot more to learn on the south pole of the moon, where we have never been. The nearly continuous sunlight and lack of disruptive weather at that site has earned it praise from many scientists as "the most ideal natural laboratory in our solar system."  

Another highlight of the event was a speech given by David Glenn, son of the late and beloved John Glenn, from whom the symposium got its name. David's words were emotional and inspirational as he talked about John's life. He closed with three pieces of advice from John: be persistent, never lose your spirit of adventure and blaze new trails. Anyone who listened would agree this was a high point of the event, as shown by their standing ovation for David.

As John Glenn always wanted, NASA is going to continue to go where no one has gone before, both literally and figuratively. As these endeavors increase in scope and complexity, so does the need for a talented workforce. Skilled workers are the unquantifiable factor that could significantly impact the quality and timeliness with which missions are completed. Pratt & Whitney, a global leader in aerospace manufacturing and one of the symposium's sponsors, cited a 20 percent rise in their engineering workforce during the last three to four years. The search for talent will go on. NASA's success will depend heavily on this search, along with the expansion of partnerships with industry and academia and the effective usage of test facilities to architect and innovate the future of space travel.

Director of the NASA Glenn Research Center Janet Kavandi and Executive Director of the AAS Jim Way expressed their excitement for the inaugural Cleveland symposium and for the partnerships they see on the horizon, including with the GCP. Cleveland has solidified itself as an integral part in the field of aerospace with the collaboration, research and development that has and will continue to take place here, thanks to NASA Glenn and the facility in Plum Brook. More intriguing developments will be shared Sept. 10-12 in Alabama at the 12th Annual Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium.