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Princeton has many space-traveling connections, some of them quite unexpected.

For example, the new entrepreneur-in-residence at Princeton Engineering is Greg Olsen, the founder of Sensors Unlimited and one of Earth’s first private space travelers.

Olsen talks about his adventures in an illuminating interview in the current issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly. In addition to fueling the entrepreneurial passions of Princeton students, Olsen devotes much of his time to inspiring school-age children to pursue careers in science and engineering. His talks are sprinkled with videos of his trip on the Russian Soyuz rocket. They provide an incredible glimpse into the everyday life of an astronaut. Here is a delightful video of Olsen drinking water in space.

Princeton’s august history in space began in 1948 when the Guggenheim Foundation named Princeton and Cal Tech as the two sites for its jet propulsion centers. One of the goals of the program, believe it or not, was to figure out how to deliver mail with rockets. Princeton’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering went on to make decades of contributions

to the U.S. space program and the aerospace industry.

Princeton Engineering grads who have flown on space missions include Pete Conrad (1969), Gerald Carr (1973), J.C. Adamson (1991), Greg Linteris (1997), and Dan Barry (1999). These days Barry may be better known for his tenacious tenure on the reality TV show Survivor.

The cover of the current issue of Wired magazine is devoted to the “dawn of the private space age” and the space ambitions of Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Princeton Engineering alum Jeff Bezos. Could entrepreneurs like Bezos eventually put NASA out of business? In a related Wired story on the decline of NASA, writer Gregg Easterbrook speculates that this is a possibility — “but not for the next couple of decades — space has colossal economic barriers to entry.”

Given his fascination with space and his phenomenal success as an Internet innovator, Bezos gave a surprising answer when asked recently what he considered the most exciting fields of today, according to a report from Agence France-Presse. Bezos, who in 1986 graduated with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science, said that if he were in college today he would be very interested in nanotechnology, biotechnology and genetic engineering.

While we’re on the subject of the new frontier at the intersection of biology and engineering, be sure to read this recent article by EETimes, which provides a glimpse into Ron Weiss’s latest work in synthetic biology. Finally, to bring us full circle, it is interesting to note that Princeton’s Robert Stengel, who designed the human module control system for the Apollo space mission, is now employing similar techniques to look for optimal treatments for HIV and other diseases.

 
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