Student Profiles: Robert Gitten – Promoting Manned SpaceflightNovember 2, 2015November 2, 2015Ariel


Robert Gitten, SEDS-UM counsel member and aerospace engineering junior, is an unapologetic “Martian”. His passion for promoting manned spaceflight, specifically Mars colonization, has permeated his academic career and professional goals, driving him to pursue opportunities as divergent as a Nuclear Engineering research position in Shanghai to an internship at Lockheed’s Orion Program.

Rob’s fascination with space started at a young age when he began imagining the logistics of supporting a city in orbit around Earth. His interest in human spaceflight was later solidified by his participation in the Student Space Settlement Contest in high school. Rob explains:

“Every year, NASA Ames sponsors a contest for high schoolers to create a city in space. I won it two years in a row. When you win the contest, you get an invitation to the National Space Society Conference. This conference made me realize that Mars is where we’re going as a species and that I wanted to be a part of it.”

This sentiment remains unchanged. The summer of his freshman year, Rob accepted an internship at the Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research and Design Institute to learn about nuclear reactors that he hoped would prove useful to Elon Musk’s plans for Mars colonization. The following year, Rob interned as a Systems Integration Engineer at Lockheed Martin where he assisted Orion’s Chief Engineer in solving “the problem of the hour.”

Orion spacecraft. Credit: NASA.

Orion spacecraft. Credit: NASA.

Throughout his journey, Rob’s philosophy towards Mars exploration has undergone an evolution. Rob was originally enamored by the glamor and innovation of private spaceflight as exemplified by companies such as SpaceX, Virign Galactic, and Blue Origin. After his time with Lockheed Martin though, he came to appreciate the role of government in executing interplanetary missions; namely, that public organizations like NASA, unlike private companies, can address basic research questions that may not generate revenue in the short-run, but are essential to exploring Mars.

Rob’s Mars passion has unsurprisingly manifested itself though his SEDS involvement. Rob participated in a national SEDS contest to design a system that would enable constant communication on Mars for 90 days. The SEDS-UM “Satellites Around Mars” 2015 team received third place for their project. Currently, Rob is contributing to the SEDS-UM sponsored BLiSS (Bioregenative Life Support System) project to investigate designs for a greenhouse to be operated on the Martian surface.

When asked why manned space exploration should be valued in light of a plethora of domestic issues on Earth, Rob explained:

“For me, [space exploration] is almost like a piece of artwork or a statue in a park. If you look at it in the most pragmatic sense, there is no economic incentive for making art or building a statue in a park. We do these things because it’s what we want to tell ourselves that we value as a society. Yes, we have problems. But we also must have things we aspire to. Yes, it’s science, yes, it’s engineering. But there are many human stories behind these missions as well.

We do it for the feels.”

Ari Sandberg, SEDS-UM Member