Niko Blanks ’17 knew as a young boy that he was interested in space. Watching movies such as Apollo 13 and October Sky with his grandfather sealed the deal: he would be an astronaut. It turned out Blanks also had related passions. “STEAM Lab at Baylor is where my love for engineering was fostered. Mechanics Club helped me figure out that I loved building things.”
Blanks will graduate in May 2022 from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where he is studying Spaceflight Operations and Engineering. His original plan to become an astronaut is intact, but he first plans to earn a graduate degree in engineering and work full time in the space industry.
This summer Blanks is in El Segundo, Calif., interning at Aerospace Corporation, the only federally-funded research and development center related to space enterprise, and he already has a fall internship lined up working on New Glenn (yes, that Glenn) rockets at Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Pick up anything in your house, and I can relate it to a space program — the camera inside an iPhone, Velcro, the internet, or GPS.
In December 2020, Blanks participated in the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI SEAS) at 8,200 feet above sea level on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano. The area’s Mars-like features make it an ideal spot for mission preparation. “It was a two-week simulation. We followed all mission requirements,” explained Blanks, with the excitement of the little boy who played astronaut by the hour. “We did our own research, lived off the grid with limited food and oxygen, and had to put on space suits when we went outside.”
While Blanks’s sights are set on space, his motivation is rooted here on earth. “Space exploration helps us understand the world around us,” says Blanks. “That’s what I love so much about it.” He notes that many people don’t realize how dependent we are on NASA and other space agencies. “Pick up anything in your house, and I can relate it to a space program — the camera inside an iPhone, Velcro, the internet, or GPS.” Other examples he notes are medical technology and satellites, which expand our understanding of the environment by monitoring weather, changes in the ocean, and patterns in human migration.
“The space industry is growing so fast. In the next 10 years, it will be one of the biggest in the world. It will be an opportunity for people in every field, and it will help everyone’s lives on a day-to-day basis.” To follow Blanks’s role in this rapidly changing sphere, we suggest you look up.