When I first visited the Space Coast in 2002, I was pleasantly surprised to find a unique feature of the beachside hotels. They always had an information board outside the bar, just before you ventured onto the beach. The board displayed the weather forecast, the ocean temperature, and the next launch time. It was the last addition that really impressed me: nowhere else but the Space Coast would rocket schedules play such an important role in daily life. I was sold.
Nearly fifteen years later, I’m still amazed at the role technology plays in this community. There are very few areas that have such a high concentration of skilled labor. I only know of cities like Albuquerque that have a workforce with a comparable percentage of advanced degrees. In New Mexico, that’s primarily due to the presence of federal laboratories like Los Alamos. For us, it continues to be the space center and all the aerospace and defense companies that are here to support it.
But this is not your grandfather’s space center. Recent years have seen rapid changes in the space program, with a proliferation of private industries like SpaceX taking center stage. NASA is still a huge influence, but there’s clearly momentum behind commercial space initiatives. This momentum carries with it a myriad of new technologies in areas such as advanced manufacturing, drones and robotics, and launch systems.
This Friday, the Space Coast Tech Council (SCTC) and the Melbourne Regional Chamber are hosting Techxpo at the Eau Gallie Civic Center. It’s an excellent opportunity to experience some of the fabulous technology-based products and services coming out of the Space Coast. Registration is just $10. (It’s free for SCTC members, and for students and educators with a valid ID). More information about this event can be found at http://bit.ly/2ydvedD.
Techxpo also includes several breakout sessions, which offer the opportunity to hear industry experts discuss topics of interest. This year there are sessions on cybersecurity (which I am moderating), drones & robotics, and aerospace. The cybersecurity session is particularly timely, given the recent data breaches at companies such as Equifax and the loss of highly-classified NSA data through the use of Russian antivirus software. Cybersecurity is something that all organizations need to take very seriously – and there’s obviously a lot of room for improvement across the board.
The shuttle program may be gone, but there are still plenty of launches to keep us impressed. This week’s SpaceX launch of a used Falcon 9, and the subsequent landing of the booster, are testament to the continued success of technology on the Space Coast. I’m still sold.
Scott Tilley is a professor at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. Contact him at TechnologyToday@srtilley.com.
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