June 11, 2009
Cortland native working to colonize space
CHS graduate studying aerospace engineering in Ph.D. program at University of Colorado
Cortland native Brad Cheetham began dreaming of the stars as a boy — and hasn’t stopped since.
His first memory of his current work, to develop ways for people to live in space, dates to third grade at Parker Elementary School. A schoolmate told the rest of the class that Cheetham wanted to be an astronaut. He replied that no, he wanted to send people into space.
“I don’t know where that thought came from,” the 22-year-old said Tuesday, speaking from Boulder, Colo., where he is settling into a Ph.D. program in aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado.
His recent years are a mix of studying, teaching people and thinking about ways for the Earth to find new resources in the solar system and beyond.
“To me, space symbolizes the future of humanity,” he said. “Humans want to explore — the ocean, Earth, the moon. It’s what we are, explorers. My goal is to make life better here on Earth by using the resources of space.”
Cheetham wrapped up his undergraduate years in May, graduating from the University at Buffalo with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering.
He was a speaker at the engineering college’s graduation ceremony, a member of several groups devoted to engineering and space, and a community assistant for his student housing apartment complex.
He says working with people may have come just from being around his parents, Betsy and Bill. His father served on Cortland’s Common Council when Brad was a boy. His family always talked about civic matters.
An accomplished tennis player, Brad Cheetham became a U.S. Tennis Association official at 17, and officiated college and professional matches while still in high school.
Besides that moment in third grade, Cheetham recalls another moment that led to his current career path: his eighth-grade English class with teacher Stephanie Passeri. The class placed in an international NASA competition to design a space station.
Passeri’s students this year tied for first in their division, with a school from India. She tells the students about Cheetham as an example of where the project can lead.
“That class had a huge impact on me,” Cheetham said.
Cheetham was founder and president of the UB chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. As student relations manager for the Space Exploration Alliance, he led college students through Congress, pitching the value of the space program to members of Congress.
Last summer, Cheetham got a taste of NASA’s work itself when he was accepted to the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Space Academy in Maryland.
“It was awesome in almost every way,” he said. “It’s a 10-week residential program, a boot camp.”
Cheetham did research with a NASA scientist, David Folta, into a topic he will pursue in graduate school: permanent orbits in place around the sun or other astral bodies. He also was leader of a group project titled “Road Map to a Space Faring Civilization,” analyzing ways that private business could aid NASA in space exploration.
Along the way, he met former astronaut and U.S. Sen. Jack Schmitt at a conference in Boston. Schmitt told him to stay involved with civic issues as well as space.
On May 6, he planned and presented lessons about space for fifth- through eighth-graders at Buffalo’s Public School No. 80. He compared space explorers to Christopher Columbus, to get the students’ interest.
“NASA donated materials and lesson plans, UB matched that by providing materials,” he said. “I squeezed it between finals.”
He came home to Cortland for one night, then went to a conference in Baltimore, spent a couple of days in Las Vegas goofing off with friends, then flew to Orlando for a conference that he managed.
Cheetham then drove 1,700 miles to Boulder, where he will spend the next several years studying orbits with prominent researchers.
He said his words in third grade still hold true: he wants people to reach space and colonize it.
“I want to send other people,” he said. “I don’t think about going myself. But don’t get me wrong, if I get the chance to go, I will.”
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe