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Spotlight

Ken Hara

Assistant Professor, Aeronautics and Astronautics
Aeronautics and Astronautics
Story originally published on Jan 2020
As a kid, I was enthusiastic about aerospace but I didn’t memorize types of airplanes or the names of space shuttles.

My dad and I were both science fiction fans. He liked to watch Star Trek; I was more of a Star Wars person. The stories in those movies influenced my decision to become an aerospace engineer. It always excited me to think about exploring places where no one had been before.

Today, I do research relating to space propulsion. Simply put, it’s about finding a way to efficiently go farther and faster. That’s incredibly important for building satellites and for doing scientific exploration.

I study ways to use ionized gas, which is called “plasma,” to propel a spacecraft. We basically take energy from solar panels and use that energy to accelerate the plasma using electromagnetic forces. It’s a far more effective propulsion system than chemical rockets.

There’s increasing evidence and successful missions showing that we can make this happen on a larger scale. There are actual missions where plasma propulsion is used to gather samples from an asteroid. Someday, we may be using plasma propulsion to bring humans to places we can only imagine today.

While I don’t have any aspirations to be the first person to visit another planet, I hope that my research contributes to helping humans achieve the goal of exploring the unexplored depths of our solar system, galaxy and universe.

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