Dittmar selected as first Space Policy Fellow for Cislunar Initiative
Purdue University is working to position itself as a leader in Cislunar space, leveraging its unique strengths to respond to the emerging challenges in the Earth-Moon neighborhood.
Makes sense, then, the University would secure experts in the fields it is most looking to impact, which is why Mary Lynne Dittmar recently was selected to serve as the Cislunar Initiative’s first “Space Policy Fellow.”
As president and CEO of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration (CDSE) and a member of the National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group, Dittmar is embedded within the world of space policy and intimately understands its facets. She was eager to share that knowledge and insight during a nearly week-long visit to Purdue in early November.
Dittmar gave lectures on space policy, engaged with students, attended strategy sessions with senior University staff and faculty. She’ll return to campus in Spring 2020 and likely host a short course, among other activities.
“One of the goals of the Cislunar Initiative is to be thinking about, ‘How do we bridge from policy to technology, technology to policy?’ That’s actually kind of the trajectory of my career. I’ve done systems engineering and hardware up through policy,” Dittmar said. “I enjoy working with students. I enjoy trying to help kick off research and development initiatives. It just seemed to be a good opportunity and a good moment in time to try to leverage both my experience, Purdue’s membership in CDSE and the interests of our industry partners with the Cislunar Initiative and also provide me the opportunity to get back in the classroom a little bit. So it just seemed a natural synergy.”
Years before the College of Engineering officially established its Cislunar Initiative, seeds were sown within the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Daniel Dumbacher was a professor of engineering practice in AAE, teaching courses in systems thinking, systems engineering and space policy. He brought in a guest lecturer in the latter area multiple times, Dittmar. During that time, Dumbacher and Dittmar had conversations about figuring out how to leverage the interest of companies that were focused beyond low-Earth orbit exploration with a variety of departments at Purdue. They wanted to take a multi-disciplinary approach, grounded in engineering but not limited to engineering.
Once Purdue became a member of the coalition and Dittmar had helped to grow the group to include nearly 70 members — it started with five founding members — she was spurred to produce change. NASA has a Cislunar Initiative, but Dittmar knew it needed to be underpinned.
Purdue was the ideal fit.
“No matter what the nature of the politics are and how the politics play out, what must absolutely underpin that is the technical, the extent to which technical and industry and academic interests all play together and can inform policy as it’s going forward. You have to have the other side of that iteration where policy sort of feed backs into all of that,” she said. “I do think Purdue is positioning itself, through the Cislunar Initiative and some of the other work it is doing on the defense side, as a network platform and an opportunity for those kind of synergies. I think that’s absolutely, positively what’s needed right now.”
So when the Cislunar Initiative was established in Summer 2019 as a Purdue Engineering Initiative, Dittmar accepted a role on the advisory board. In the fall, she was named a fellow for the initiative.
“Dr. Dittmar is uniquely positioned for this advocacy role with a strong technical background and, now, a deep understanding of space policy, particularly at the national level,” said Kathleen Howell, Hsu Lo Distinguished Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and co-chair of the Cislunar Initiative. “However Dr. Dittmar is quick to comment that space policy occurs in other domains as well, for example, state government; there are also important international aspects. Although Purdue is well known for our depth in the technical disciplines as space exploration moves forward, the wealth of experience that Dr. Dittmar brings to our campus in the policy arena is an opportunity for our faculty and students.
“She also notes that Purdue is perhaps uniquely positioned to bring more technical information into the policy discussions. The future will be determined by our students. Thus, it seems prudent for them to be aware and embrace the relationship between technical achievements — as well as challenges — and the policy directions to enable space development.”
In her initial meetings with students during her visit, Dittmar spoke candidly about those challenges, while also offering a thorough review of exactly what space policy is and what it entails. She spent a significant amount of time during two two-hour sessions answering specific questions from students, and many of those students left more informed and armed for action.
“Dr. Dittmar’s visit made me realize just how complex space policy is. From international treaties, trades and deals in Congress to the ‘wild west,’ space policy is a really complex challenge to figure out,” said Emily Zimovan, one of Howell’s Ph.D. students. “As an aerospace engineer, an understanding of space policy — what the current policies are and how these policies are made — wouId really help me to understand why and when changes happen and to navigate this industry and prepare me to help influence future policies.”