The dream of space travel

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Michael López-Alegría was 11 when he heard the words of Neil Armstrong as he set foot on the moon: “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The voice, which reached him over the radio, has been with him ever since. That July 21, in 1969, an astronaut was born.

López-Alegría has notched up four space missions, over 257 days in space, played a major role in the construction of the International Space Station and set the American record for extravehicular activities. Who would have thought it of a child who used to hide drawings of the solar system in his closet? And on April 14, López-Alegría shared the history of his trips into space with attendees of the presentation of IE’s new International MBA.

Like any child, shortly after hearing Armstrong’s words and deciding he wanted to be an astronaut, he changed his mind and decided he wanted to be a football player instead. Then it was a guitarist, then a doctor, until finally he settled on being an architect. He grew up and entered the Naval Academy in 1976, which, without knowing it, would bring him closer to becoming an astronaut. He chose to specialize in aviation and his time piloting a cargo plane permitted numerous stopovers in Madrid, where he would often enjoy a glass of wine in the evening. One day, however, he stumbled across an article about test pilots that had been selected to become astronauts in the academy’s magazine. His eyes rested on the article as he realized that perhaps the dream he had had as an 11-year-old boy might after all come true.

After becoming a test pilot, he was selected to join NASA in 1992. Three years later, he was skyward bound on his first space mission on the most sophisticated shuttle to grace the skies. López-Alegría wasn’t destined for the moon, like he had always imagined, but to orbit around the Earth.

He can still perfectly recall the feeling he had before boarding the shuttle for the first time. It was the culmination of a year of preparation and excitement was running high. On route to the shuttle, the captain and the team repeated the same words: “Dear God, don’t let us screw up.”

Throughout the course of his career, López-Alegría has been commander of the International Space Station, where he has spent periods of up to seven months, 400 kilometers above the Earth. The station is regarded as the biggest and most complex engineering project ever designed. It is currently manned by six astronauts, who carry out various scientific missions and investigations.

Asked about the future of the space business, López-Alegría, who has presided over the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an organization that promotes leadership in commercial space flights to drive technological innovation, explains that “now it’s not just countries that go into space. Companies also have access to the technology and can carry out space travel.”

Companies from Spain and all over the world are now working to bring people closer to the moon and the stars via flights to the limit of the atmosphere or return trips to outer space. Innovation and technology is being made available to those who want to use it and have the means, letting them join the adventure. It’s even being made available to space agencies who need to reduce costs. The business model is, of course, in its early stages, but it is nonetheless one which, in López-Alegría’s eyes, may be attractive to many MBA students.

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