BOSTON — MIT’s Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics graduate admissions program this past year saw a record number of applicants, “most of whom want to work in the space business,” said Daniel Hastings, professor and head of the department.

NASA’s exploration achievements and SpaceX’s high-profile space missions are driving enthusiasm at colleges and universities, Hastings said Sept. 28 at the Space Sector Market Conference in Cambridge, Mass.

“I can’t tell you how many students think that flying a helicopter on Mars is just a cool thing to do. They want to do things like that, it’s really attractive to a lot of students,” said Hastings.

“Really exciting things are happening” in space science and technology, he said. 

Hastings said it’s important for students aiming for space careers to acquire technical skills “but they also need to start thinking entrepreneurially” about the business of space. 

The Aeronautics & Astronautics department just started a program with the MIT Sloan School of Management where students can earn a “certificate in innovation,” said Hastings.

“We’ll run a $10K competition and give money to those who come up with the best ideas for a space business,” he said “These are the things we’re actually doing to encourage their entrepreneurial juices, plus giving them the technical stuff as well.”

Hastings recently hosted the chief of space operations of the U.S. Space Force Gen. John “Jay” Raymond for the signing of a partnership between MIT and the Space Force to identify opportunities in research and education.

The agreement with MIT is one of several the Space Force has signed with academic institutions under the University Partnership Program. The Space Force is looking to establish scholarship, internship and mentorship opportunities for students and ROTC cadets. 

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...