Pushing Boundaries

Senior Niko Blanks is on a mission to help shape a more advanced – and accessible – age of space exploration.

Embry-Riddle Spaceflight Operations student Niko Blanks
Blanks is pursuing a B.S. in Spaceflight Operations with minors in Human Factors and Systems Engineering. (Photo: Josh Asiaten)

Niko Blanks (’22) has looked up to trailblazers like Homer Hickam and Jim Lovell from the moment he first watched October Sky and Apollo 13. Attending a camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in high school only reaffirmed that the space industry is where he belonged.

A Tennessee native, he moved to Daytona Beach to begin his journey toward a bachelor's degree in Spaceflight Operations in 2017. It didn’t take long for Blanks to connect with classmates who share his passion in the Spaceflight Sciences Policy and Operations Club and the Embry-Riddle Future Space Explorers Development Society.

Also the manager of the Spacesuit Utilization of Innovative Technology (S.U.I.T.) Lab, Blanks plays a critical role in human spaceflight research.

His involvement in the lab even afforded him an opportunity to spend two weeks in Hawaii living on the side of Mauna Loa – the largest active volcano on Earth and a site known to mimic extraterrestrial environmental conditions.

During the mission, Blanks studied the effects of long-term spaceflight on astronaut performance to inform future exploration strategies.

“It didn’t just give me real-world research experience,” he said. “It got me one step closer to achieving my dream of becoming a real astronaut.”

His experience in the S.U.I.T. Lab is just one of several that have helped him network within the industry, solidify his career path and grow as an individual.

“From clubs on campus to studying abroad in Greece and Germany, my time here at Riddle has been a fantastic adventure,” Blanks said.

His goals go beyond helping humankind discover more of our universe than ever before. Blanks envisions a future where spaceflight is available to all regardless of limitations due to disabilities or socioeconomic status.

As a pediatric cancer survivor, he was incredibly moved by SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission – the first to be crewed by a bone cancer survivor with a prosthesis.

“Seeing Hayley Arceneaux fly to space was inspirational beyond words,” he said.

Blanks completed a test and flight operations internship with Blue Origin last fall and is confident that a rewarding career in the space sector is in his future.

“With hundreds of new companies popping up and trying to solve problems that we used to deem impossible, we are entering the space industry at such an amazing time,” he said. “I am so excited that I get to be at the forefront of this space revolution.”