Space Operations Major Aims to Boost Accessibility to Space

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

Niko Blanks, seen here next to a space suit, is pursuing a B.S. in Spaceflight Operations with minors in Human Factors and Systems Engineering. (Photo: Josh Asiaten)
Niko Blanks, seen here next to a space suit, 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.

Why Choose Embry-Riddle for a Space Operations Degree?

A Tennessee native, he moved to Daytona Beach to begin his journey toward a bachelor's degree in Spaceflight Operations (now Space 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.

Linking the space industry and regulatory agencies with Embry-Riddle’s well-established aviation and aerospace connections, the innovative Space Operations program teaches students to solve challenges such as airspace traffic coordination, launch operations, along with addressing training and certification requirements.

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.”

What Kind of Experience Can You Get at Embry-Riddle?

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.

Dreaming of Space Flight for Everyone

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.”

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