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Ohio Space Forum 2023 highlights Ohio's role in plans to go to the moon and Mars

Major General Gregory Gagnon, Deputy Chief of Space Operations for Intelligence, U.S. Space Force
Kathleen Colan
Ideastream Public Media
Major General Gregory Gagnon, Deputy Chief of Space Operations for Intelligence, U.S. Space Force was the keynote speaker at the 2023 Ohio Space Forum.

Since the Wright brothers first invented powered flight and John Glenn first orbited the earth, Ohio has stood at the forefront of space and aviation innovation.

Ohio’s ongoing role - with NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, the Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility in Sandusky and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton - is the focus of the 2023 Ohio Space Forum. This year’s forum is taking place in downtown Cleveland.

Nearly 60 Ohio companies have contracts with NASA’s Artemis Moon-to-Mars mission, said Casey Swails, Deputy Associate Administrator for Business Operations for NASA.

Swails, along with a group of 250 space and aeronautics experts including Major General Gregory Gagnon, Deputy Chief of Space Operations for Intelligence for the United States Space Force, detailed Ohio’s key role in the nation’s space exploration goals.

“The topic of space is a unifier no matter what’s happening in the world,” said Swails. She presented NASA’s Moon-to-Mars strategy and explained more about the future of the lunar economy, stressing that currently NASA and partners are, “wireframing the foundation, building the architecture and developing a blueprint for sustained human presence in space.” Swails added that 1,000 spacecraft launched in the first half of 2022, more than during the first 50 years of the space program.

Joe Zeis, Senior Advisor for Aerospace and Defense for Governor Mike DeWine, shared data that shows that aerospace and defense is responsible for 110,900 jobs in Ohio, making up 5.9% of the state’s economy with an approximate $39.9 billion impact. Zeis added that Ohio’s colleges and universities produce more than 18,000 science and engineering graduates each year and the state needs to figure out how to keep more of them in Ohio.

“Synergy is our focus and partnering to win is key and stresses the criticality of partnerships in academics, commercial partnerships, these are vital in a strategic industry — focus on partnerships,” Zeis said. “Space is a strategic, national industry. Critical in preserving both the economic and commercial security both of Ohio and the United States.”

Dr. Jimmy Kenyon, Director of NASA Glenn Research Center, said it’s a marvelous time to be working in space.

“The James Webb Space Telescope mirrors were provided by a company called Materion from right here in Mayfield Heights. The solar-electric propulsion, the thrusters, that were demonstrated during the 2022 DART mission (which involved the rerouting of an asteroid), were developed and tested right here by our folks at NASA Glenn Research Center,” he said.

“That megawatt class hybrid electric powertrain for aircraft (for commercial electric plane flights) was built and tested by GE Aerospace, working in partnership with NASA (Glenn). The spacecraft docking seals at the International Space Station were developed here at Glenn and with partners such as Parker Hannifin," Kenyon said.

Kenyon said the challenge now is for Ohio to build for the future with a focus on infrastructure and sustainability for life in space, first the moon, then on to Mars. He said high-speed, high-bandwidth communications also are mission critical along with crew health performance and safety.

“Now we can say that the road to the moon and to Mars goes through Ohio. It’s not gonna be an easy road," Kenyon said. "It’s a big vision, It’s gonna take time to get there. We need to continue the momentum, continue the support. We need to continue driving forward, we need everybody on board. It’s an exciting time to be in Ohio.”

The Ohio Space Forum concludes Wednesday.

Kathleen Colan is a freelance journalist. Since 1998, she has contributed to Sun Newspapers, The Plain Dealer, Cleveland Magazine, The New York Post and more.