Balancing coverage of space and aviation

I sometimes wonder about the impact that the written word and other forms of media can have on the career choices of students, such as whether they will get into the space or aviation worlds, or choose an area that spans both, such as materials or computing.

I would not want to exaggerate the possible impacts of a magazine like ours on such decisions. Notably, none of the professionals featured on our monthly Trajectories page have ever cited a magazine article as the reason they got into the business. The closest thing to such an admission came during a 2015 interview with Charles Elachi, the retired director of the NASA-funded Jet Propulsion Lab in California. He told me how as a boy in Lebanon he received a magazine distributed by the U.S. Embassy. Inside was an article about Explorer-1, the first American satellite. This was a turning point for him.

That is very rare. Typically more impactful than anything journalists can produce are interactions with parents, teachers and other mentors, and I’m guessing that Elachi had some of those, too. There is just no substitute for this personal touch.

That said, it does seem logical that the amount and quality of the buzz surrounding specific topics might combine with one’s personal experiences to help students set their paths. The desire to give students and professionals information about aviation, space and cross-cutting topics is one reason that we here at Aerospace America work hard to guard against tunnel vision.

Aviation technology is just as important as space exploration, even if space sometimes leaps to the fore with events such as last month’s Soyuz accident or policy deliberations over missions to the moon and Mars. Whether to launch such missions and how to carry them out are multibillion-dollar decisions that policymakers must get right. There is also a wild card in what you see or don’t see in this magazine, and that’s the big story that we were working on that was not quite ready for publication.

But here’s another disclosure that might not be a surprise: There’s just no denying that space right now has the attention of journalists. That’s quite a turnaround for those of us who got into this business a couple of decades ago. I remember telling fellow journalists back in the ’90s that I was going to work for a newspaper called Space News.“ You mean as in outer space?” I would nod. Now, when I hear from freelance journalists, more times than not the article pitch has to do with space.

Space is cool again. I get it. But there is so much to cover in the world of aviation that affects most of us daily or will in the future. The list includes artificial intelligence, the internet of things, drones in the airspace, personal aircraft, airliner surveillance, cybersecurity, electric propulsion, geared turbofans, high-bypass-ratio engines, design tools, computational fluid dynamics, wind tunnels, safety, especially in general aviation, and more.

Enjoy this issue of Aerospace America and remember nothing in it is the final word.

The NASA photo is of the jettison motor for Orion’s launch abort system, which is scheduled for a full-stress test in April 2019 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

About Ben Iannotta

Ben keeps the magazine and its news coverage on the cutting edge of journalism. He began working for the magazine in the 1990s as a freelance contributor and became editor-in-chief in 2013. He was editor of C4ISR Journal and has written for Air & Space Smithsonian, New Scientist, Popular Mechanics, Reuters and Space News.

Balancing coverage of space and aviation