Campus Life

Texas A&M Space Lab To Open At SXSW Online

Experts will be featured on panel discussions ranging from space law to building life-sustaining environments on other planets.
By Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications March 8, 2021

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Texas A&M University returns to SXSW this month with several powerful discussions centered around space exploration as researchers join industry leaders and NASA officials in discussing unmet challenges and innovative solutions beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

A&M will be making history as it joins SXSW Online March 16-20 in the first virtual-only festival in its 34-year-old history. The event features keynote speakers, film festival screenings, sessions, networking opportunities and exhibitions.

SXSW has been described as being a metaphor for the modern world as entrepreneurs and media companies make it a premier destination for discovery.

Amy B. Smith, senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer for Texas A&M, said she’s looking forward to putting a spotlight on the university as a global space-grant institution and one of only a few universities participating.

“This year, Texas A&M’s presence at SXSW is about the realities of space law and habitability – who governs space, how we can survive and thrive long term in it. As a proud NASA partner, we look forward to hosting space industry executives, a six-mission former astronaut, researchers, and academicians to stimulate great conversations for which SXSW is known,” Smith said. “We commend festival organizers for their resilience in hosting a great lineup for the virtual event and look forward to returning to Austin in person next year.”

Following are details about A&M’s panel discussions, which will be published on SXSW’s website and be available for viewing for up to 12 hours for those who purchase a pass. Learn more about SXSW badge discounts for college students.

9 p.m. Thursday, March 18 – Who On Earth Should Govern Space?

Who will make the rules once out of the Earth’s orbit? Can any commercial space company attempt to colonize Mars? These are just the start-off questions for those with insatiable curiosity. A university president, the former director of space flight policy at SpaceX and an expert on the ownership of artifacts discovered in space confer with an editor and Pulitzer Prize finalist.

  • John Junkins, interim president, distinguished professor of aerospace engineering, Texas A&M University
  • Caryn Schenewerk, vice president of regulatory and government affairs, Relativity Space
  • Michelle Hanlon, founder of For All Moonkind; associate director of the Center for Air and Space Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law
  • Moderator: Beth Daley, editor of The Conversation

3 p.m. Friday, March 19 – Pushing Our Bodies And Minds Beyond The Limits

If the future of humankind relies on space, many believe that the mental challenges can be overcome, but what about our Earth-friendly bodies in such weightlessness? A former astronaut and a sport psychologist discuss the possibilities of long-term human presence in space.

  • Bonnie Dunbar, director of Texas A&M’s Aerospace Human Systems Laboratory and former NASA astronaut
  • Ryan Pittsinger, director of Texas A&M Counseling and Sport Psychology Services
  • Moderator: Jamie Stockwell, deputy national editor, The New York Times

6 p.m. Friday, March 19 – Future Of Space Exploration: Lunar Village

Four leading technologists and construction experts discuss with authority the feasibility of building a life-sustaining environment on other planets, along with creating zero-gravity live-work quarters. This is where space architecture, construction, robots and engineering intersect.

  • Rob Mueller, senior technologist at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center; co-founder, Swamp Works
  • Peter J. Carrato, senior advisor at Bechtel, the largest construction company in the U.S.
  • Pat Suermann, department head of Texas A&M Construction Science, College of Architecture
  • Moderator: Nicole Shumaker, research specialist at Texas A&M overseeing prototype of brick-printing lunar robot

This will be the fourth time for A&M’s Division of Marketing and Communications to showcase a sampling of A&M’s expertise in front of the SXSW international audience. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled last year’s event.

Roland Swenson, CEO and co-founder of SXSW, said the challenge of building a new future is one his team is excited to tackle.

“This has been such a year of change and we, like the entire world, are reshaping our perspective on how we connect,” Swenson said. “We’re pleased to be working on SXSW Online as part of our program for 2021, and regardless of platform, we will continue to bring together the brightest minds from creative industries worldwide.”

For more stories on space research, visit Texas A&M Today.

Media contact: Kelly Brown,

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