Virtual Beyond the Cradle 2021 Speakers


Space Exploration Initiative

Space Exploration Initiative

Director's Welcome


Dr. Ariel Ekblaw

Dr. Ariel Ekblaw, Director of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative

Ariel Ekblaw is the founder and Director of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative, a team of over 50 graduate students, staff, and faculty actively prototyping the artifacts of our sci-fi space future. Founded in 2016, the Initiative includes a portfolio of 40+ research projects focused on life in space, and supports an accelerator-like R&D program for payload development and flight testing across MIT. For the Initiative, Ariel drives space-related research across science, engineering, art, and design, and charters an annually recurring cadence of parabolic flights, sub-orbital, and orbital launch opportunities. Ariel graduated with a B.S. in Physics, Mathematics and Philosophy from Yale University and defended her MIT PhD in autonomously self-assembling space architecture for future habitats and space stations in orbit around the Earth, Moon, and Mars. Ariel’s work has been featured in WIRED (March 2020 cover story), MIT Technology Review, Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, CNN, NPR, IEEE and AIAA proceedings, and more. Humanity stands on the cusp of interplanetary civilization and space is our next, grand frontier. This opportunity to design our interplanetary lives beckons to us—Ariel strives to bring our space exploration future to life.



Dr. Moogega Cooper

Dr. Moogega Cooper, Planetary Protection Lead, Mars 2020 Mission

Dr. Moogega (pronounced Moo-ji-gae) Cooper received her B.A. in Physics from Hampton University in 2006. She then enrolled in Drexel University where she received her Masters and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in thermal fluid sciences. Her dissertation studies involved non-equilibrium plasma sterilization of spacecraft materials so it was a logical transition to work for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) Planetary Protection Group. She has been at JPL for 11 years, working on spacecraft to include Mars Science Laboratory, InSight, and most recently Mars 2020. She was involved in the Mars 2020 Mission as the Lead of Planetary Protection, and has transitioned on to leading the next endeavor with the Europa Lander concept. She is also involved in developing sterilization capabilities that could potentially be applied to the returned sample from Mars.

Moon Dialogs Salon


Mehak Sarang

Moderator: Mehak Sarang, MIT Space Exploration Initiative

Mehak Sarang works with the Space Exploration Initiative, supporting projects related to lunar exploration including an upcoming lunar payload to be flown onboard Blue Origin's inaugural lunar lander, Blue Moon. She currently leads development of the Lunar Open Architecture, a tool to facilitate collaboration in the space industry among actors interested in lunar exploration. Mehak is also a Research Associate at Harvard Business School with Professor Matthew Weinzierl, researching the business and economics of the space sector.


Michelle Hanlon

Moderator: Michelle Hanlon, Co-founder For All Moonkind, Co-Director Air and Space Law at UMiss

Michelle is co-founder and President of For All Moonkind.  She leads all legal efforts, with particular emphasis on space law.  Michelle is also Co-Director of the Center for Air and Space Law and an instructor of aviation and space law at the University of Mississippi School of Law.  She is also the President of the National Space Society.  Michelle received her B.A. in Political Science from Yale College and her J.D. magna cum laude from the Georgetown University Law Center.  She earned her LLM in Air and Space Law from McGill University where the focus of her research was commercial space and the intersection of commerce and public law. Prior to focusing on space law, Michelle was engaged in a private business law practice.  Her legal career commenced with the restructuring of sovereign debt for a number of South and Latin American countries and evolved into the negotiation and implementation of cross-border technology mergers and acquisitions.  Her subsequent solo practice advised entrepreneurs across four continents on all aspects of bringing their innovative ideas to market: from basic corporate formation to financings and buyouts. Michelle is also a founding partner of ABH Aerospace, LLC a consulting firm which provides advice and counsel in respect of all aspects of air, space and cyber law.  She is on the Advisory Board of several start-ups involved in commercial space activities including orbital debris removal, remote sensing and the support of lunar resource extraction.  Michelle is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Space Law and the Faculty Advisor for the Journal of Drone Law and Policy.


Peter Martinez

Dr. Peter Martinez, Secure World Foundation

Dr. Peter Martinez is the Executive Director of the Secure World Foundation. He has extensive experience in multilateral space diplomacy, space policy formulation and space regulation. He also has extensive experience in capacity building in space science and technology and in workforce development. 

Prior to joining SWF, from 2011 - 2018 he chaired the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS) Working Group on the Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities that negotiated a set of international consensus guidelines to promote the safety and sustainability of space operations. In 2012 and 2013 he was South Africa’s representative on the United Nations Group of Government Experts on transparency and confidence-building measures for space activities. From 2010 – 2015 he was the Chairman of the South African Council for Space Affairs, the national regulatory authority for space activities in South Africa. From 2014 - 2018 he was Professor of Space Studies at the University of Cape Town. Before this he acquired fifteen years of executive level management experience gained in the research and development environment of the South African Astronomical Observatory, a National Facility under the South African National Research Foundation. 

He is a member of the International Academy of Astronautics, the International Institute of Space Law, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and an Honorary Professor at the University of Cape Town. He has authored or co-authored over 200 publications on topics in space policy, space sustainability, astronomy, space research, space law and space policy.


Dr. Marlène M. Losier

Dr. Marlène M. Losier, For All Moonkind

Dr. Marlène M. Losier is a legal expert in international law. She advises private and public clients regarding the international and national legal policy implications of transnational disputes over rare objects found on land, underwater and beyond Earth, particularly as they involve the succession of States. She advises also on creating new domestic and international laws with respect to cultural properties. Dr. Losier is an expert in complex matters of sovereign immunity and jurisdiction, where they conflict, when they are evoked in areas beyond national jurisdiction and specifically in respect to their title and related proprietary rights under international law. Her academic background is in government and social anthropology and her legal basis is in international litigation, alternative disputes resolution and contractual matters. She is Principal of Losier & González, PLLC based in Washington, D.C.


Dr. Minoo Rathnasabapathy

Dr. Minoo Rathnasabathy, MIT Media Lab Space Enabled

Dr. Minoo Rathnasabapathy is a Research Engineer within the Space Enabled Research Group at the MIT Media Lab. In this role, she helps coordinate projects in collaboration with international development organizations, national governments and entrepreneurial companies to apply space technology in support of the Sustainable Development Goals. She also leads efforts in establishing the Space Sustainability Rating (SSR) in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and the European Space Agency. Previously, Dr. Rathnasabapathy served as the Executive Director of the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), a global non-governmental organization which acts in support of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications, based in Vienna, Austria. Dr. Rathnasabapathy was responsible for leading the operations, business development, strategy, and policy output for SGAC, a network that represents over 10,000 university students and young professionals in 110+ countries. Dr. Rathnasabapathy earned her Ph.D in Aerospace Engineering from RMIT University, researching the impact dynamics of novel materials used in aerospace structures. Dr. Rathnasabapathy serves as a Vice President on the Bureau of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Space, and advisor to the Swarovski/Slow Factory OnexOne Initiative.

Life in Space Panel


Sunanda Sharma

Moderator: Dr. Sunanda Sharma, Research Affiliate at MIT SEI, Artist-in-Residence at Technische Universität Berlin

Sunanda Sharma, Ph.D. is an interdisciplinary scientist and designer and is currently a researcher with the MIT Space Exploration Initiative. Sunanda focuses on designing the organism-environment relationship across scales and contexts. Her goal is to explore the capabilities of visualization and tools such as microscopy and spectroscopy for understanding interactions between living organisms and their dynamic micro-environments. This information can be mapped across space and time and may be used to inform design approaches for products and architectures. Sunanda is especially interested in applying her research to study questions about the origin and evolution of life, biosignatures, and life in extreme environments. She graduated with her Ph.D. from the Media Lab (2020) and was part of the Mediated Matter Group.


Jill Tarter

Dr. Jill Tarter, Emeritus Chair for SETI Research at the SETI Institute

Jill Tarter is the Emeritus Chair for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California and serves as a member of the Board of Trustees for that institution. Tarter received her Bachelor of Engineering Physics Degree with Distinction from Cornell University and her Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley. She has spent the majority of her professional career attempting to answer the old human question “Are we alone?” by searching for evidence of technological civilizations beyond Earth. She served as Project Scientist for NASA’s SETI program, the High Resolution Microwave Survey and has conducted numerous observational programs at radio observatories worldwide. She is a Fellow of the AAAS, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Explorers Club, she was named one of the Time100 Most Influential People in the World in 2004, and one of the Time25 in Space in 2012, received a TED prize in 2009, two public service awards from NASA, multiple awards for communicating science to the public, and has been honored as a woman in technology. She was the 2014 Jansky Lecturer, and received a Genius Award from Liberty Science Center in 2015. She served as President of the California Academy of Sciences 2015-16. Asteroid 74824 Tarter (1999 TJ16) has been named in her honor. In 2018 she was recognized with the Maria Mitchell Women in Science Award and the Sir Arthur Clarke Innovator’s Award. Since the termination of funding for NASA’s SETI program in 1993, she has served in a leadership role to design and build the Allen Telescope Array and to secure private funding to continue the exploratory science of SETI. Many people are now familiar with her work as portrayed by Jodie Foster in the movie Contact. Her biography "Making Contact" was written by Sarah Scoles and published in 2017.


Max Tegmark

Prof. Max Tegmark, Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Max Tegmark is a professor doing AI and physics research at MIT as part of the Institute for Artificial Intelligence & Fundamental Interactions and the Center for Brains, Minds and Machines. He advocates for positive use of technology as president of the Future of Life Institute. He is the author of over 250 publications as well as the New York Times bestsellers “Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” and "Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality." His AI research focuses on intelligible intelligence. 


Rohit Bhartia

Dr. Rohit Bhartia, Deputy PI on NASA's JPL SHERLOC payload, Perseverance Rover; Principal Scientist, Photon Systems Inc.

Rohit Bhartia is the deputy Principal Investigator for the SHERLOC instrument on the Mars Perseverance rover, and a principal scientist at Photon Systems. Over the last 20+ years he led research and instrument development programs at JPL/NASA for life-detection using deep UV based native fluorescence/Raman imaging and spectroscopy. These technologies enabled a new method for in-situ detection and imaging of organics and potential biosignatures leading to the development of SHERLOC to detect signs of life on Mars. In addition, he has led a number of field deployments to study microbial life and preservation in extreme environments such as Antarctica, Greenland, Death Valley, and the deep ocean subsurface. Through these efforts he and his team are creating a new picture of the microbial “textures” that inform us of life in extreme environments on Earth as well possibilities for life within ocean worlds such as Europa and Enceladus.


Nathalie Cabrol

Dr. Nathalie A. Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, SETI

Nathalie is a planetary scientist, an explorer, and a leader of research projects in astrobiology and extreme environments, planetary missions and robotics. She is a science team member of the NASA Mars Exploration Rover mission and was the main advocate for the selection of the Gusev crater as the landing site for the Spirit rover on Mars. She is the principal investigator and the expedition leader of the High Lakes Project, a NASA funded project exploring the highest volcanic lakes on Earth at close to 20,000 ft. Their exploration includes extreme scientific scuba and free diving and has brought new insights into poorly known and remote extreme ecosystems. Nathalie and her team document life adaptation to extreme environmental conditions and the effect of rapid climate change on habitability whether on present-day Earth or early Mars. She counts over 400 publications and professional communications. She has authored three books and several chapters of books. Her research is cited in the media and has been the focus of several TV documentaries. EDUCATION: Graduated from the Lycée Corneille (France) and obtained her baccalaureat from the Academy of Versailles in 1982; received a license in physical geography in 1985 from the Nanterre University (France) with specialization in remote sensing, climatology, natural hazards, and hydrology; obtained her master in planetary sciences from the Sorbonne University, Paris, in 1986 and her Ph.D in planetary sciences from the same university in 1991. After two years of post-doctoral studies at the Observatory of Paris-Meudon, she was invited to work at the NASA Ames Research Center in California in 1994 with a post-doctoral grant from the French Ministry of Research. Selected as a National Research Council Fellow in 1996, she started developing exploration strategies for robotic and human planetary missions at NASA Ames. Since 1998, she is a senior research scientist at the SETI Institute Carl Sagan Center and a contractor of the NASA Ames Research Center where her office is located at the Space Science & Astrobiology Division.

Living Life in Low Earth Orbit: Fireside Chat


Michael Suffredini

Mr. Michael T. Suffredini, President, CEO, and co-founder of Axiom Space, Inc.

Michael T. Suffredini is President, CEO and co-founder of Axiom Space, Inc. Mr. Suffredini has 35+ years of experience in human spaceflight, and served as NASA’s International Space Station (ISS) program manager for a decade prior to his retirement in late 2015. As ISS program manager, Michael was responsible for all aspects of the program including design, development, assembly, operation and utilization of the 460 metric ton, permanently manned international orbiting laboratory complex. The 15 nation program is the largest international peacetime project in human history. During his tenure, Mr. Suffredini successfully led the transition of the ISS program from a development and assembly focus to a research and commercial utilization focus, opening avenues for a new commercial marketplace in space. Mr. Suffredini holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas, was recognized as an Distinguished Graduate in 2009 and has been inducted into the Aerospace Engineering Academy of Distinguished Alumni.  Mr. Suffredini is the recipient of numerous awards including the NASA Distinguished Service medal, the NASA Outstanding Leadership medal, the National Air and Space Museum Trophy and the Yuri Gagarin Medal. In addition, Michael has had both the Rank of Meritorious Executive and Rank of Distinguished Executive conferred upon him by the President of the United States.

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