Published: Aug. 26, 2019 By
Donor Ann Smead cuts the ribbon at the grand opening event.

Donor Ann Smead cuts a ribbon lifted up by two flying drones. (Credit: Glenn Asakawa/CU Boulder)

And liftoff.

Today, visitors from across Colorado gathered at CU Boulder for an event celebrating the new Aerospace Engineering Sciences Building, home to the Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences. This building, which occupies roughly 175,000 square feet on East Campus, will be the new home for faculty and students seeking to expand humanity’s presence in space—and explore our home planet, too.

The grand opening event had a block party atmosphere, complete with food trucks and a bounce house shaped like a rocket.

To kick things off, Chancellor Philip DiStefano led a ribbon-cutting ceremony alongside leaders from CU Boulder and beyond. They included Bobby Braun, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, and his wife Karen; Brian Argrow, chair of the aerospace engineering department; John Hayes, CEO of Ball Corporation; Penina Axelrad, professor of aerospace engineering; Emily Mitzak, aerospace student ambassador; and donors Ann Smead and Michael Byram.

Industry representatives also helped usher in Colorado’s new hub for aerospace. Officials from Lockheed Martin, General Atomics and L3Harris Technologies were all in attendance, as well as United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno.

In a twist befitting the event, Smead used a giant pair of scissors to snip a ribbon hoisted in the air by two flying drones.

“Our new Aerospace Building is a tangible sign of our commitment to our students, faculty and staff, to provide spaces where they can learn, grow and collaborate,” DiStefano said. “It is also a sign of our commitment as a university to remaining at the forefront of aerospace engineering research, education and innovation for the state and the nation.”

Braun agreed, noting that the new building, a $101 million investment, will fit into CU Boulder’s rapidly-growing “aerospace alley.”

“This new home for our amazing aerospace engineering faculty, staff and students fits within an already-impressive legacy of space activity across our campus,” Braun said. “The science and technology developed right here in Colorado is enabling our nation’s future in space.”

Colorado in space

Days before, the new building received another prestigious send-off: a visit from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

Bridenstine spent Friday, Aug. 23, on campus, first touring the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), then visiting the aerospace engineering building just down the street. There, he peeked at a model nose cone of a Dream Chaser spacecraft, which was donated to CU Boulder by Sierra Nevada Corp. and serves as a spaceflight simulator.

In a question-and-answer session with students, Bridenstine talked about the space agency’s push to return American astronauts to the moon by 2024—an effort that CU Boulder researchers have been instrumental in supporting.

“I’m very excited about the role Colorado will play in the United States’ continuing leadership in space exploration,” Bridenstine said. “NASA partnerships with private companies and research organizations like CU Boulder are a model for the future and instrumental in helping us put the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024.”

One student even asked Bridenstine if NASA might consider sending an all-woman mission to the moon in the future.
“Have we considered it?” he said at the event. “Yes, and, in fact, that wouldn’t surprise me if that’s what we did.”

CU Boulder is the largest recipient of NASA research dollars among public universities in the U.S. and has, over its history, visited all eight planets in the solar system—plus Pluto, the sun, asteroids and more.

Future of space exploration

The future of that legacy was on display during Monday’s event, which drew a crowd of hundreds.

Outside, families played lawn games and listened to the music of the Blue Canyon Boys. Officials also buried a time capsule containing, among other artifacts, a CU Buffs baseball hat that flew aboard the International Space Station for six months and a circuit board built by students. It won’t be dug up again until September 2071 on the 125th anniversary of the founding of the aerospace department.

Inside, the fun continued as visitors toured the building’s labs and educational spaces. They included fabrication labs where students will soon design and print new hardware for everything from robots to satellites. And visitors got the chance to see an indoor space where researchers will test out ground-based and aerial drones.

It’s a learning environment that excites Emily Mitzak, a CU Boulder sophomore studying aerospace engineering.

“I am so grateful to attend CU Boulder, and to have been accepted into the Aerospace Engineering program. However, coming from out of state, I was a little unsure of my decision,” Mitzak said. “The new Aerospace building truly creates a sense of community, and ensures me that I made the right choice.”