I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Sidus Space founder and CEO Carol Craig—who has broken multiple glass ceilings in two different historically male-dominated industries over the course of her incredible career. If you haven’t had a chance yet, you can read part one of the interview here, where Craig discusses her Naval career, experience with bringing the first female-led space company public and building companies from the ground up. In our continued discussion, Craig explains how renewed interest in space is affecting the industry, the historic moment in which we find ourselves, the ways space science impacts our everyday lives (and why investing in it is so critical), the increasing accessibility of the industry, and the new era of exploration and discovery on our horizon.
Elting: There seems to be a revived interest in space exploration, with an exciting emphasis on inclusivity. NASA recently announced the crew for its first manned moon mission in over 50 years, and not only are we going back to the moon, but the Artemis II crew includes the first woman and the first Black astronaut to go to the moon. What are your thoughts on our return to the moon and what it and this historical crew represents? Do you see this renewed interest as a new beginning in space exploration?
Craig: Space exploration continues to advance with new technologies and the desire to gain a better understanding of the benefits of space from both private companies and international space agencies. The Artemis program is dedicated to establishing a sustainable presence with lunar missions, and this has produced a trickle-down effect for all aerospace industries as we look to this as a transformational and historical moment for human spaceflight. In addition to manned missions, the inclusion and diversity within the crew are paving the way for future advancements to include individuals of all backgrounds.
Elting: Has this renewed interest had an impact on Sidus and the way you lead? And how do you see it affecting your industry more widely?
Craig: For me personally, I feel that the interest in space exploration and the space economy is a great thing. It’s certainly a case of a rising tide lifting all boats. Those in the space industry know how important space is to our existence, our economy and our future. With the growing accessibility of space technology and resources, we are poised for a new era of exploration and discovery, and more people than ever before will be able to contribute to the ongoing development of the space ecosystem. It’s an exciting time to be a part of this industry, and I believe that the opportunities for growth and impact will only continue to expand in the years ahead.
Elting: Following the fervency of the space race and the construction of the ISS, it seemed like further space exploration was no longer a national priority, and public interest dwindled, culminating in the shuttering of our space shuttle program in 2011. So it’s thrilling that we’re going back with the aim to further push our limits. Do you have any advice on how to weather these kinds of changing tides and uncertainty, particularly in such a continuously-evolving industry with cutting-edge technology?
Craig: I am not sure that space exploration was no longer a priority to everyone, as much as it was no longer a priority for government-led efforts—this was the time when we saw the shift to the commercialization of space exploration by private companies. The end of the shuttle program was actually a major turning point for Sidus. Craig Technologies bid on an opportunity to take over the NASA Shuttle Logistics Depot (NSLD) and was awarded a five-year non-reimbursable Space Act Agreement to maintain hundreds of pieces of equipment and machinery that had been used for the shuttle program. We changed the name to the Aerospace & Defense Manufacturing Center and this is when Craig Technologies Aerospace Solutions was created with a focus on repairing, manufacturing and testing human spaceflight-rated hardware. We were also supporting commercial space customers, satellite manufacturers and varied commercial manufacturing fabrication and testing.
This was one of those risks I mentioned earlier—we hired multiple people that were displaced when the shuttle program ended—great people with great skills. It turned out that quite a bit of the equipment was specific to shuttle maintenance and not useful, but this opportunity led to the expansion of our manufacturing division and as a result, we ended up supporting all the major government and commercial space programs.
After nearly a decade of manufacturing mission-critical hardware for these programs, we came to the conclusion that we should build our own spacecraft with an innovative 3D technology and that was the beginning of what is now Sidus Space. We changed our name to reflect that new direction.
My advice would be to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and developments. Create a culture of continuous learning and innovation. And build strong partnerships as well as collaborate with other industry leaders.
Elting: What does the future of the aerospace industry look like? What new challenges and opportunities lie ahead?
Craig: What excites me about the aerospace industry is how open and accessible the opportunities are—prior to the transition to a commercial mindset, you literally had to be a rocket scientist and could only work with NASA or the Department of Defense. Now, there are so many private ventures and fewer barriers for people to become involved.
Talking about space is no longer like speaking an unfamiliar language. There is a larger community to work with and less effort to indoctrinate and convince people to join the movement and help to make these far out ideas a reality. We have the tools, technology and awareness to understand how our planet works because of space technology. From the first blue marble image of Earth that was taken outside of our atmosphere decades ago, to the remote imagery and sensors that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) relies on to predict hurricane seasons today, the work being done in space is critical to the survival of humankind.
With all of the opportunities that lie ahead, there are a few challenges. First of all, there are a lot of different players operating under different rules and regulations depending on the country of origin. Consider the differences between how the Russian Space Agency and NASA operate. They both sent people to space, but the ways in which they did that were dramatically different. There is no one authority right now and that could be problematic as more entities enter the commercial space arena. Who owns the moon? That will be an important question to consider as the U.S. makes plans. Although some space-faring nations have agreed to a variety of policies and treaties that concern activities in space exploration, there is much more that needs to be addressed.
Second, while I do believe that more people being space-aware is a good thing, I think we also run the risk of taking that exposure for granted. It takes effort and money to make all of these really great advancements happen. People don’t fully realize how their everyday communications and opportunities such as travel have been connected to the investment in space science and technology. Can people live without GPS now? I doubt it. But, when you talk about needing money to build and launch satellites, the message is not fully embraced or understood. We need to do a better job of demonstrating the return on investment over the long-term.
I am also concerned about space debris—and it may seem hypocritical since I’m planning to put more hardware up there, but when we created our constellation and satellite strategy, we consciously made decisions related to the design that facilitated the avoidance of creating additional space debris as much as possible. LEO (lower earth orbit) is becoming more populated and there is a lot more risk to sensitive assets being damaged. I’ve seen proposed solutions to reclaim the debris in question and although moving in the right direction slowly, I think we will move faster as we see the space economy’s total addressable market being estimated at 1 trillion by 2030.
Elting: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Craig: We’re at an inflection point in the space industry. The growth of the space ecosystem or space domain is occurring much like the internet or commercial aviation—it’s not if but when and we’re here. We’re building the space infrastructure for what is about to come.
Original Article by Liz Elting on Forbes