Once upon a time, the space business in America was, essentially, NASA. Fueled by Cold War-era competition with the USSR, only the government had the motivation, funds, and resources to put toward extraplanetary research. Not anymore. In the past few years, the industry has flowered, in part because private companies have looked into the inky void and seen profits. "We're turning to an exciting chapter in history right now, to people who have different visions of what space can be used for," says Karina Ogilvie, a mechanical engineer at aerospace company Orbital ATK.
This rocket boom promises an out-of-this world future—and stellar opportunities for people from all walks of life. Examples include everyone from former astronaut Mark Kelly, who cofounded a company that aims to float thrill-seekers to the edge of the stratosphere in giant helium balloons, to Lien Pham, a Vietnamese immigrant who became a technician at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and sews temperature-regulating blankets for craft like the Curiosity Rover. (Not to mention the business school grads, test pilots, and erstwhile double bass players who have all found a career in the new space economy.) We asked some of them to reflect on their livelihoods, the industry, and the future of spaceflight.
This article appears in the November 2016 issue. Subscribe now.