Space is the final frontier, and for years, NASA was at the forefront of human spaceflight.
From the Apollo program to the Skylab space station and eventually the Space Shuttle program and International Space Station, NASA set milestones for humanity, like putting the first manned spacecraft in orbit of a celestial body (the Moon) in 1968. But after years of the U.S. government leading the way in sending people into space, the future of human spaceflight seems decidedly private. Companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Amazon’s Blue Origin are already deep into the process of exploring the next steps -- terraforming the Moon and sending humans to Mars and beyond, and whether you know it or not, Los Angeles is positioned to figure directly into the future of human spaceflight.
A city that was once an aerospace hub during the 20th century, Los Angeles saw the industry slowly disappear after the Space Race ended and the Cold War thawed out quickly. But in recent years, the industry has started to resurface, perhaps most notably with Elon Musk’s company SpaceX based out of Hawthorne near LAX in the old Northrop Grumman factory. Head about 90 miles north of L.A. and you’ll find the Mojave Air and Space Port, an FAA-certified spaceport and is also home to Richard Branson’s Virgin. And that’s not to mention the many firms that are popping up across Southern California but don’t have quite the name recognition or financial backing of others.
With NASA celebrating its 60th anniversary last week, and the highly-anticipated film “First Man” about Neil Armstrong’s famous 1969 moonwalk coming to theatres this Friday, Larry Mantle with an astronaut and rocket scientist about the future and challenges of space exploration and human spaceflight, and the major role that Los Angeles figures to play in it all.
Anita Sengupta, senior vice president of systems engineering at Virgin Hyperloop One, the L.A.-based tech company that built the first operational Hyperloop in Las Vegas, and an adjunct research associate professor of astronautics at USC; she tweets @Doctor_Astro