PEOPLE Program Grad Aaron Olson Has
an Eye on Space
Aaron Olson did several internships with NASA and worked
as a part of a team that won a NASA X-Hab competition in
Houston, Texas last summer.
visible part of the space program — Olson feels that the program is just entering a different phase.
“There is too much being placed on the space shuttle,” Olson said. “In the public’s mind, the space shuttle is what NASA was for so
long. Essentially that was the only space craft that took humans anywhere for the U.S. since 1982 when they first started launching it.
But there is much more to NASA. The general public doesn’t know about all of the science missions going on. And it doesn’t
necessarily know about the planning that goes on behind what’s going on. For space enthusiasts, you look at it and say, ‘It’s about
time.’ It had been around for 30 years flying and we could have designed something better in the meantime. And now we actually are.
For example, there are commercial companies that are designing space craft to take humans up to the International Space Station and
beyond. One such company is actually launching their first payload up to the International Space Station as a contractor to NASA on
May 19, the day I graduate. Hat is Space X. So there is a lot of development going on in the commercial sector. And there is a lot of
planning that NASA is doing to spur on the next wave of innovation. Right now, their plans are to develop something called the Space
Launch System or the SLS. It’s supposed to be ready by 2017 and it is supposed to be the most powerful rocket ever created. So we’re
not forgetting about space altogether even though I don’t think there is enough funding in it. Anyone interested in space will say that
also. We’re not done by any means. If you want to look at the whole scope of space, there is a lot more to be done, for sure. And I don’t
think the U.S. is quitting anytime soon.”
While so far Olson has been helping in the planning for space through experiments and the development of prototypes, he also hopes
to make it into space someday.
“I could speculate, but I would hope to do something productive out there to start with,” Olson said. “I don’t know what capacity that
might be in. Maybe one of these years, 5-10 years down the road, I might throw my hat in the application ring for the astronaut cop. That
is a possibility. The other things is if I am able to save up $200,000, I could go up on Virgin Galactic’s spaceship too, which is already
doing flight tests by the way. And people have already put down payments toward that $200,000 to have their first trip into space. I’m
not sure when they will officially be open for business, but Virgin Galactic has been talking abut this since 2004 when they won the
Ansari X Prize. They are getting closer every day. There are actually investors all over the world, not just the U.S., who are willing to
pay that $200,000 to go into space.”
While there is no firm date that is planned as of now, Olson feels that humankind will land on Mars.
“I hope we get to Mars in your lifetime,” Olson said with a laugh. “It’s one of those things. I’ve talked to some of the professors over
here and when they were in their 30s, people were talking about Mars in 20 years, Mars by2005, Mars by 2010. We’re at 2012 now and
it hasn’t happened. I’m open. Sooner is better. Space agencies like NASA and the European Space Agency and the Russian Space
Federation have plans to go to Mars by 2030. Obviously there are already rovers on Mars and there are satellites orbiting Mars right
now. I hope 2030 actually becomes a reality and hopefully before then, but we will see.”
For now, Olson is content with working on his Master’s degree at the UW Engineering Physics department and will then decide which
way he will go when he obtains his degree in engineering mechanics.
“I’ll be doing research with Dr. Kozinski in looking for the technology needed to extract and use lunar resources either for volatiles like
hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and different gases that you can get out of the lunar soil,” Olson said.
Wherever he will be, Aaron Olson will be keeping his eyes on space.
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 2 of 2
Space, the final frontier. Those words have inspired generations to look
toward the moon and beyond. For Aaron Olson, space may someday
become a reality. Olson, a PEOPLE Scholar, recently graduated from UW-
Madison with a degree in mechanical engineering And while UW-Madison
may not be viewed as a portal to space, it was engineers at UW-Madison
who helped design the Hubbel telescope, which allowed humankind to
take a closer look at the universe. And it is UW-Madison that has allowed
Olson to dream of space.
With participation in three space-related projects under his belt, Olson has
given space a lot of thought. And while the end of the Space Shuttle
program appears to send a signal that the U.S. has lost its commitment to
space — in part because the Space Shuttle was far and away the most