The late astronomer Carl Sagan, author of the celebrated series “Cosmos,” once remarked that the thickness in the vertical direction where life exists on Earth is 13 miles long. This minuscule distance, compared to other dimensions, is just remarkably small. Yet humans in the last half-century have enriched life by venturing at much larger vertical distances, both above and beyond the earth’s surface, much exceeding that distance, and enabling a much more interconnected human life. Today’s ubiquitous, instantaneous communication signals span much greater distances, the “near-earth” space. So does the ongoing revolution in cloud computing. None would have been possible without the advances inspired by the need to send and receive signals over planetary distances at the onset of space exploration several decades ago. Near-earth space is crucial to global communications, defense, the exploration and monitoring of surface and subsurface resources, and not least the environment and the climate.
From the time of the ancient astronomers, space exploration has been synonymous with the quest for the origins of the cosmos, the exaltation of the human spirit to understand human destiny, and perhaps human purpose. The origin of the Greek word for human, ανθρωπος, is to “look up,” ανω θρωσκω. Through the remarkable advances in space technology, we have been able to “look up” at the complexity and wonder of our planetary system and beyond. It is not a very distant thought that with other ongoing revolutions in robotics and in 3-D printing, man would be able to colonize space in the very near future in ways never thought possible before.
Space has always had a strong presence in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, going back to the 1970s. More symbolically, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the creation of a separate academic home for the school’s Astronautics program, one of only a few in the nation. More promising, space has always inspired young minds with the excitement of what might be possible. At USC, this spawned wonderful outside-the-curriculum projects in rocket propulsion, flight dynamics and microsatellites. Such projects, requiring elegant and precise interdisciplinary work between aerospace, astronautical, and mechanical and electrical engineering, reassure us that the future of space is in talented hands.
Also in this issue, you will find extensive coverage of the remarkable work conducted by our faculty in biomedical engineering. From restoring vision to certain blind patients through the artificial retina, to restoring long-term memory, to growing tissue on a chip, to leveraging the wealth of data informatics, biomedical engineering is ushering unparalleled advances to enhance the quality of life. Many more of these will be enabled in the very exciting, state-of-the-art new USC Michelson facility, soon to be built on the USC University Park Campus.