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NASA needs young people to go to the moon – says Daniel Lockney

Europe’s largest entrepreneurship event for students (Fallup) has ended. And yes, it was a big one. So big that even NASA wanted to show up. But instead of sending an alien to Helsinki they sent Daniel Lockney, who is Technology Transfer Program Executive at NASA. Don’t let the title scare you! He also has two dogs (named Astro & Cosmo) and gives very funny and inspirational speeches.

Stepping on the stage he starts with a humble ”Yeah, I’m from NASA”, and then continues, saying that he now has thirty minutes to prove us otherwise. With the same attitude (but one hour earlier) he steps into a room where I am waiting with today’s photographer, Elis. I feel like breaking the ice with a ”now I know what it feels like to be starstruck, when we have NASA in the room”. But luckily there was no need for such embarrassment. Instead Lockney sits down and quite quickly reveals that he just learned where Finland is on the map.

We forgive you Lockney. We also forgive you for not knowing that the company (spoiler alert: Nokia) that you sold NASA’s mini camera to was Finnish. We don’t care, because without it maybe we wouldn’t have social media, as you humbly put it later on stage.

– The original idea for the camera was for it to be used by spies, but we figured out there are not enough spies for a commercial market. Then Nokia called us up and wanted it for their phones. We laughed and asked if they wanted to take pictures of their ears. Phones are made for calling so who would ever be interested in taking photos with them? Nokia answered: teenage Japanese girls.

So Lockney’s conclusion is that we all have something in common with teenage Japanese girls. Maybe so, but that is now ancient history. We want to know what is on for the future, and who better to ask about it than NASA?

The first woman on the moon by 2024

It is now fifty years since Apollo 11 landed on the moon. With the anniversary came news about sending people back there in five years – way earlier than the previously planned 2028. Although this time they are not ”only” going for walking and collecting rocks. In a video about the upcoming moon landing NASA says that they are ”going to the moon to stay”. 

The project is named after Artemis, who according to Greek mythology is Apollo’s twin sister, and more important she is also the goddess of the moon. But besides all the obvious links between ancient mythology and the mission, the name Artemis also whispers about NASA’s plans to send the first woman ever to step on the moon. 

”We need your help to go to the moon”, says Lockney after presenting the Artemis project to hundreds of students. Photo: Elis Karell.

For Artemis to be successful, NASA is now collecting knowledge on how to make living possible on the moon, such as how to extract water from the moon and making it drinkable. While listening to Lockney it becomes clear that the space exploration is more than aliens and floating objects. He explains to Studentbladet how space inventions can generate technology and job opportunities for us here on Earth.

– We develop new technology for space missions, and then we find ways to share them as broadly as we can. So we ask the industry, academia and the government for knowledge and ideas to get the inventions suitable for the commercial market.

The young and the inventions

Once a month Lockney visits one of NASA’s many collaborative universities around the States. For NASA, students are an essential part of the process of getting space inventions into the global market. In this symbiotic process students give NASA ideas, and in return they help students to get their startups running.

– For example, when we ask business students what they could do with our inventions, they then spend a semester determining if there is a commercial market for it or not. And sometimes this leads up to a student based company that we help them build, says Lockney.

Prateek Singh displayed his startup FinnAdvance at this years FallUp in Helsinki. This chip contains a rare disease for the purpose of finding a cure for it. The project is already funded by the EU, but Singh tells us he is also reaching out to NASA. He wants to send his chip (packed with astronautic disease) to space. Photo: Elis Karell.

For some students this process is also an opportunity to get a foot in the door of NASA. And not only for American students. The Artemis project, for example, will be dependent on international partners, and that is also why Lockney visits Helsinki for the first time. He wants to speak to the future entrepreneurs about why space – and its technology – can make our lives better.

– The more people that get involved in this enterprise the better. We are always in need of ambitious, talented and smart students that can work with everything from writing to hanging from a helicopter taking photos, says Lockney and gives us an encouraging look (or maybe I imagined this part).

Yesterday’s sci-fi is today’s run-of-the-mill

This time Daniel Lockney is not looking to recruit. Instead he wants to remind young people about childhood dreams of working with space exploration – that we tend to forget when we stop believing in aliens – and maybe inspire to a future in its technology. This would, according to him, create a safer future in many possible ways. In his words, you might be solving someones problems if you come and work for NASA.

You can always try to go and get Lockney’s job, but he will fight you for it. – Do something else, because I really enjoy my job, he says. Photo: Elis Karell.

Lockney sometimes gets shocked by the fact that he is not a part of ”the young team” anymore. Even for a person working at NASA, the technology almost develops faster than the speed of light. Biometric inventions, for example, would have been considered science fiction when he started working. When meeting students he is also amazed by how young people today truly believe that everything is possible.

But how about you – are you dreaming of going to the moon? 

– No, for me Finland is far enough, laughs Lockney.

Instead he dreams of coming back to Finland when it’s covered in snow. He also wants to see a reindeer. We intentionally forget to tell him that reindeers only live in north Finland. Not to be mean – but only because we want to see him back in our capital. Maybe then with a mission of recruiting Finnish young brains.

Want some more astronautic inspiration? Here you go:

Studentbladets chefredaktör 2019

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