A true model for the inventive and entrepreneurial spirit, Dr. Franklin Chang-Díaz is utilizing his wealth of expertise as a NASA astronaut to pioneer a new future for rocket technology. Díaz is confident that his advanced propulsion technology called VASIMR®, developed by his Ad Astra Rocket Company, will support the next generation of interplanetary exploration.
Half a century ago, the space age was born with the roar of a mighty rocket and the beeping of the first radio message from space. As a young boy in Costa Rica, I was no different from other youngsters throughout the world gazing at the heavens that October night and I too cast my dreams into the starry night. The bold and timely leadership of the United States, embodied in JFK’s words still resonates: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…” Today we are doing something hard, opening the path for humanity’s survival into the new space frontier. Traveling the vast ocean of interplanetary space requires new technologies in advanced power and propulsion, as well as radiation protection. A new advanced propulsion technology called VASIMR® and based on high temperature plasma is currently under full scale development by Ad Astra Rocket Company. The latest results of this research are exciting and bode well for the first space test scheduled for late 2013 on the International Space Station. This talk will cover the historical milestones in the development of the VASIMR®, from its early origins in the 1980s at MIT, through its formative years as a NASA project, to its technological maturation at Ad Astra. I will discuss its present status, major challenges and the company’s current plans for full commercial deployment of the technology in support of a rapidly emerging space market.
Dr. Franklin Chang-Díaz is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Ad Astra Rocket Company, a private firm based in Houston, Texas with research operations in both Houston and Costa Rica.
Díaz is a testament to the i2e philosophy, dedicating his life to his vision. He immigrated to the United States at 17. He received his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Connecticut and a PhD in plasma physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He joined the Astronaut Office at NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) in 1980 and flew aboard 7 space missions. He retired in 2005 after 25 years of service.
In 1979, he invented a variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket, known as the VASIMR engine, which will reduce space travel to Mars from 6-9 months to only 39 days. He founded and directed the Advanced Space Propulsion Lab at NASA JSC to develop the concept. In 2005, he founded Ad Astra to deploy and test the VASIMR® engine in space next year on the International Space Station.
The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers