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Putting MBA Skills to Use in the Caltech Space Challenge

I’m a first year MBA, and I recently participated in an event called the Caltech Space Challenge, a six-day design competition every two years for students aspiring to the space industry. The task this year was to design a base on the moon to extract water from lunar ice. The water can be converted into rocket fuel for deep-space missions like those to Mars and beyond. Since the water is already on the moon, it may be more efficient to refuel there rather than earth because then you don’t need to burn more fuel to get away from earth’s gravity.

I applied in the fall and was the only MBA student among the 32 accepted participants out of the 806 applicants (the rest were engineers/scientists, and one was a public policy PhD candidate). We were split into two teams, and my team elected me project manager, so it became a great chance to put my MBA into action leading a large team under tight time pressure. (Applying SMF, employee, and customer from the core were particularly critical.) The week is a mixture of lectures, time spent considering/validating approaches, a proposal feedback session from NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, and finally a presentation to a jury of experts from NASA and the industry. Not much sleep during the week, but lots of thinking about how to do science and business on the moon.

Even though the important takeaways of the Challenge are what we learned from the experts and the professional network developed, it is a competition, and I’m proud to report back that my team won!

I’m a more technical/non-traditional MBA than most, but the program definitely made clear to me how valuable what and how SOM teaches will be as I join technical teams in the commercial space industry after graduation.