EL PASO, Texas, (KTSM) — University of Texas at El Paso President Dr. Heather Wilson, who is part of the board of advisors for Blue Origin, spoke with KTSM 9 News about the company’s successful space launch on Tuesday and UTEP’s involvement in space exploration.
What was your first reaction to seeing the successful launch?
It was just so cool, and I think everybody felt that way. There was so much excitement around this launch, and I think particularly about Wally, she finally got to go back to space but I think it was wonderful and it will be inspiring for the next generation of young people in West Texas.
Three-fourths of the engineers at the site of Van Horn, for the launch, are UTEP alumni, right?
In fact, they are, so of course, there are a lot of Blue Origin engineers in other places but at that site in Van Horn, three-quarters of those engineers were educated at UTEP, and there’s a close connection between our aerospace program at UTEP and Blue Origin, so it was great to see so many UTEP alumni get to engage in this success.
How was your experience with Blue Origin and specifically Jeff Bezos and how did you get involved with this?
Well, I was asked to join the board of advisors and really the reason I did it is because of that connection to UTEP. Our responsibility as a university is to have a positive impact on the community that we serve, and UTEP has a very strong aerospace program and it’s getting even better. The University of Texas regents have given us $70 million to build a research facility for advanced manufacturing and aerospace. We’ve just approved a Bachelor of Science in aeronautics and aerospace at UTEP and we put a lot of students through our mechanical and electrical engineering programs that have gone into some form of the space program. So space is becoming a common domain for human endeavor and we saw it this morning, but it’s actually unmanned space that is also doing a whole lot more to improve our lives here on Earth, and UTEP is part of it.
What are your hopes for the future, for Blue Origin?
With respect to Blue Origin — and really the space industry as a whole — I think the United States is going back to the moon to stay, and then go beyond from the moon to Mars. And I think that’s going to happen in the lifetime of students who are in school today. So, I think it’s going to be an exciting time to be involved in it.
Right now, there are about 4,500 satellites going around the Earth and they do everything from the blue dot on your phone to giving you the weather on your phone, weather satellites or communication satellites or SM radio in your car. So, we’re starting to take for granted the things we get from space and the cost is going down to enable more things to happen from space. Just companies today, planning satellites, there are over 80,000 satellites planned to be in orbit in the next decade, and they will enable a lot of things here on Earth.
What do you think is the best course of action for anyone interested in getting involved with the field?
The best thing for a young person interested in this is to take the hardest math and science that you can, and then start to come out to UTEP, start to look at the majors, the things you might be interested in, and the problems you want to solve. Because, you know, it’s great to make the technology, but it’s really about what are we going to change in the world, what are the biggest problems we have, whether it’s monitoring the environment or making land more productive with less pesticide. We do that now by monitoring things from space and connecting people with each other. We do that by monitoring from space. So, learning the different ways in which you can study, and all those majors are open to students at UTEP.
Anything else you want to add, Dr. Wilson?
I am so proud of our researchers at UTEP and our students who have been part of all of this, and there’s more research on the way. We’ve just received some new research awards from NASA to study the mining of ice on the moon. To study the crust on the surface of Mars, our civil engineers are studying to see how much it compresses because if we’re going to go and land and live on Mars, we need to know some things about the soils there. We need to mine ice on the moon because that rocket fuel that launched the rocket into space this morning, that was hydrogen and oxygen.
Where does that come from? It comes from breaking down water molecules, which means if you can mine ice on the moon, you can make rocket fuel to go on. All of this research is taking place at UTEP, and I couldn’t be more excited.