UT Austin Portugal premieres in the Explorers Club’s Global Exploration Summit

Image credits: Marc Bluhm

The 2023 edition of the Space, Ocean and Earth Insights (SOE) workshop gathered people from around the globe at Terceira Island, in the Azores, on June 15. SOE’23 was held at the GLEX Summit, a must-go-to-event for space explorers. UT Austin Portugal Program was one of the co-organizers.

The first edition of SOE went so well that the organizers got to make their debut at the Explorers Club’s Global Exploration Summit (GLEX), an event that gathers the world’s elite of great explorers and researchers in Oceans, Land and Space. In the afternoon of June 15, SOE pulled out an agenda that made us dive deep into the wonders of our universe, from the deep ocean to outer space.

Ana Pires, SOE’s scientific coordinator, took over the GLEX stage and set the tone for the afternoon to come. Her excitement filled up TERINOVA’s auditorium and rubbed off an audience eager to watch a constellation of stars speaking about the parallels between space and ocean exploration in a session wonderfully conducted by Ricardo Conde, President of Portugal Space, and Yvette Gonzalez, Researcher at the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS).

Since Texas has a rich history with Space Exploration – from the NASA’s facilities in Houston, Space X’s research and development facility around Waco and its launch facility in Boca Chica, and the research done through the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) – the UT Austin Portugal brought two top-notch speakers to the GLEX Stage: Moriba Jah and Luis Sentis, both from the Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at UT Austin. Moriba hooked the audience with his perspective on space environmentalism. The (in)sustainability of space science has been overlooked over the years, and problems such as space debris are becoming more acute. Space junk must be urgently addressed not to undermine humankind’s use of space in the future.

Robotics was also a major theme throughout SOE. Luis Sentis talked about the potential of Human Centered Robotics to facilitate our day-to-day activities and how it advocates for developing robotic capabilities that benefit society. Robots can also explore the big underwater world, and researchers made us understand how this field has been shaping our understanding of the oceans. Since technology’s fast development made humanity dream of its permanent presence on Mars and even on the moon, experts also talked about some of the latest innovations that can get us there.

There was also “space” to talk about the Earth and, more specifically, how the Vulcanic Island that hosted GLEX originated. Due to its geological activity, natural characteristics and central location connecting both sides of the Atlantic, the Azores’ potential to be a transatlantic hub for space research is undeniable. For this very reason, this event was a moment to highlight the island’s importance for national and international space exploration, with a very exciting announcement: it will host the first Portuguese Mars analog space mission! In this kind of mission, astronauts live in space-like conditions and run tests to assess how humans can safely live on Mars. This mission, called CAMões (Cave Analog Mission), will happen at Terceira Island this year, 2023.

Gathering multiple experts from different fields around exploration is difficult to accomplish, but SOE’23 made it possible, providing its participants with an inspiring afternoon that brought everyone’s inner explorer to the surface.