Space visionary

Name: Michael Zwach
Major: Electrical engineering
Minors: Astrophysics; Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program
Year: Senior
Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colorado

One giant leap: With the future of space exploration uncertain, Mike is a passionate advocate for its continuation. “I’m part of the space generation — people who have grown up with space exploration and the hope of going to space themselves one day. Now, we’re backing away from that, and there’s not a strong voice out there saying, ‘Let’s go to space!’ I want to change that.”

Space talk: Purdue’s Global Engineering Program and Horizons Student Support Program helped Mike go to Prague for the 2010 Space Generation Congress and 61st Annual International Astronautical Congress. At the smaller Space Generation Congress, he was among 100 students and professionals worldwide (and one of only 11 U.S. delegates) who met to discuss space industry policy. Mike also helped draft a report on opportunities and challenges facing the private sector’s growing role in space that went to the United Nations Office of Space Affairs.

Mike spoke with the heads of NASA and the European Space Agency. “I was able to voice my opinion about the space industry and to discuss space policy with people who are as passionate about it as I am.” He hopes being involved now will allow him to travel in space one day and start a company that develops space technology.

A grassroots effort: Closer to home, Mike is the national representative for Purdue’s chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), which takes a grassroots approach to space exploration advocacy. “We’re acting as a voice to local and national organizations and governments, demonstrating that students want careers dedicated to working in space.”

A foot in the door at NASA: Mike’s performance in Science Olympiad Robotic Competitions in high school and his experience with Purdue’s FIRST Robotics Program on FRC team 461 helped him land an internship at NASA after his freshman year. His project that summer involved developing a prototype for a lunar rover — by the next year, his internship had turned into a NASA contract working on the student-led team. This summer, he’ll head to California as team leader on the project to explore the effects of space radiation on electronics in the rover prototype in final preparations for a potential 2012 launch.

The final frontier: Naturally curious, Mike was 4 years old when his dad, a computer engineer, enthralled him by explaining electrons. “Even as a kid, I knew there was more to the world than Earth, and I wanted to explore it.”

By Tammy Weaver-Stoike