Houston-based NASA exec sees exciting, transformative future for fast-growing space industry

Nick Skytland, chief technologist at NASA Johnson Space Center, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

For most people, it might be pretty hard to envision a future where astronauts are living on the moon or even Mars in the next few decades, but Nick Skytland, chief technologist at NASA Johnson Space Center, says he sees that future pretty clearly.

Since its inception in 1958, NASA has achieved many milestones, from the from putting the first man in orbit to having astronauts live in space for over 20 years consecutively. But it's a new era for NASA — and its commercial partners.

"What has changed in the past decade or so is that space flight is no longer just a government focus," Skytland says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We have an entire space industry that's growing and starting to thrive in the United States, and that's an important part of our strategy going forward."

According to Skytland, the emergence of the space industry allows NASA to stick to its core mandate of exploring the unknown across its many programs — some of which have a strong presence at JSC — and in collaboration with companies, like Intuitive Machines. Tim Crain, co-founder and CTO of Intuitive Machines, joined the podcast last week to discuss his views on the future of space. He will discuss IM's journey in detail for a NASA Tech Talk at the Ion, a series that NASA puts on under Skytland's leadership.

On the show, Skytland emphasizes how much the world has changed just in the past few years, so the near future holds big developments in space — from developments on the moon or even Mars.

"The next 60 years of human spaceflight are even more exciting in my opinion than the last 60 years," Skytland says. "We're at a pivot point. The total space economy, by some measures is is $450 billion. NASA's over all budget is $25 billion — it's a small percentage of the overall industry. That's a really exciting time to be alive especially if you're a mall business or entrepreneur."

Skytland, who's bullish on the development of the space industry, says Houston's role in the future of space should be a big one.

"Our vision for Houston is for it to continue to be the Space City and a hub for human space flight," Skytland says. "We talk regularly at JSC about how giant leaps start here. We are an amazing city full of talented people, a lot of resources, and definitely a lot of vision for the future."

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