Building a future in space
For Mike Snyder, the sky’s never been the limit. It’s more like a destination.
“I was fascinated with space from a very early age,” Snyder says. “I came out of the womb this way.”
Growing up in small-town Bellevue, Ohio, Snyder dreamed of being a NASA flight director. He spent most of his free time reading about how things work, launching rockets in his back yard and taking apart his mom’s appliances — sometimes with her permission, sometimes not.
Snyder, now 32, has long moved on from tinkering in his mother’s kitchen. He didn’t become a flight director, but the folks at NASA know him well. Snyder is co-founder, chief engineer and managing director of Made in Space, a California-based company that lives up to its name.
“Our primary goal is to live and work in space eventually,” says Snyder, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Ohio State in 2009 and 2011, respectively. “We want to colonize space.”
It’s a big goal, for sure, but Snyder talks about it in definitive terms. To him, people living and working in space is just a matter of time. And Made in Space is helping to lay the groundwork.
While still a student at Ohio State, Snyder met the company’s three other founders through a Silicon Valley technology accelerator and they formed Made in Space in 2010. Their first mission was to develop a 3D printer that could work in space. They perfected their invention by experimenting with it on multiple parabolic flights, in which an airplane flies nearly straight up and noses down over and over to create periods of weightlessness.
In 2012, NASA awarded Made in Space a grant to place the 3D printer on the International Space Station. Now, Snyder’s team uses it to make everything from parts for NASA to an artist’s 3D representation of the sound of laughter. They also print tools for the space station, projects from college design students and experimental items for commercial customers.
Doug Marsh ’08, who met Snyder while the two were students in Ohio State’s College of Engineering, recently joined Made in Space as a project manager. Marsh says he was drawn to help his former classmate accomplish things that have never been done.
“Mike is an artist,” Marsh says. “His vision and creativity are the stepping stones to his success. He paints the picture in his head and develops the plan to lay it on the canvas before anyone else is even aware of the next masterpiece.”
The next masterpiece for Made in Space is Archinaut, a satellite-3D printer-robot creation designed to build big structures in space. NASA gave the company $20 million to develop the system capable of not only printing out panels, beams and other parts, but putting them together to make things that serve a function in space.
Having in-space manufacturing capabilities, Snyder explains, will lessen the need for the costly packaging and preparation of payloads to endure the volatility of rocket launches. He says Archinaut could be constructing projects in space within three years. Beyond that, Snyder predicts, the possibilities are limitless.
“If the faucet were turned on fully,” Snyder says, “we would have no problem going anywhere we want to as a species. We have the abilities and the knowledge to travel to any planet or planetary body we would want to and explore it. We have the ability to start living — at least short-term — in space.”
By Bob Beasley
William Oxley Thompson Award
The Thompson Alumni Award for early career achievement is presented to young alumni who have demonstrated distinctive achievement in a career, civic involvement or both. Nominees must not reach their 36th birthday during the year in which the award is to be given. No more than three individuals will be selected in any one year for this award.