How Anushka Sharma creates space for all people to explore space
Happyplaces stories (video)
To talk about space and finding a space in London to film, proved not to be that easy. Since the office where Anuska was working was right around the corner of Piccadilly Circus, we decided that was the perfect spot. On her phone, she has the NASA logo as the home screen, where the letters -ASA are changed into -USH, to say NUSH, short for Anushka. After working in a variety of industries, but always involving innovation and technology, she got invited by NASA to tend the launch of a satellite at Vandenberg Air Force Base. That’s when she realised that you didn’t have to necessarily have a technical background or be a rocket scientist to access the space sector. She leads a startup called Naaut focused on innovation and frontier technology for our multi-planetary future from the belief that it is essential that we can all sit together around the table, to ensure that everybody has a voice to have this discussion.
My name is Anushka. My friends call me Nush. Welcome to my hometown London. What an iconic place to be standing right now! I’m at the beginning of an amazing journey. I feel like things are just starting. I’ve been around many rotations of the sun as I’m sure many of us have, but it comes to a point where clarity comes when you listen to that inner voice. The one that niggles at you, that won’t shut up when you are trying to meditate, the kind that is chatting away in the background until you satisfy it. For me, that is the vision I try to create with Naaut. ‘Naut’ as in astronaut, because that’s the journey that I want us all to go on, and I truly mean everyone. That means you and me and everyone around us right now at Piccadilly Circus. Because space is for everyone. And I truly am determined to make it my mission to ensure that space remains there for everyone as we go forward to explore the moon, Mars, the moons of Saturn and Jupiter and beyond our own solar system. But it has been a journey, and it is only just starting. The biggest thing ever holding me back is not having the confidence to tell the world what is my passion.
I am truly determined to make it my mission to ensure that space remains there for everyone as we go forward to explore the moon, Mars, the moons of Saturn and Jupiter and beyond our own solar system.
I call myself a rogue. Rogue tends to have negative connotations just because it seems to be sketchy. I have worked across sectors and industries, and I think I have been just a curious person. I have always asked questions. Something that came up earlier on in a conversation that Marcel and I were having, just when we were grabbing a coffee around the corner, and that is this word ‘sensemaking’. Until he said that word to me, I think that was that unwritten thing I always have been doing. I feel like I have trying to make sense and draw lines between people and sectors and energy and vibes. I can’t define my process, I’m refining it constantly, but I’m okay by not knowing the right answers. Because one of the biggest milestones for me was realising that time was one of the things I just can’t control. We talk about the timeline for space and going to Mars in 2030, what are really ambitious goals for us as humans. We may get there, we may send robots before us, but I want to make sure that we’re all involved in the conversation and the design of what we’re trying to build, where we’re going and why we are going.
I’m smiling because I feel like there is an adventurer and explorer in every one of us, it’s very intrinsic to being a human. Why else do we crave that travel, that walk on grass or on sand and feel the sand between our toes?
Space universally united us
Why space? I’m smiling because I feel like there is an adventurer and explorer in every one of us, it’s very intrinsic to being a human. Why else do we crave that travel, that walk on grass or on sand and feel the sand between our toes? I think that one thing that universally unites us, wherever we are from in the world, is looking up at the night sky and seeing the moon and the stars. For millennia we used the night sky as our maps to navigate oceans and seas to get to destinations. There is a fantastic opportunity right now, and that is to take us further and beyond. More than just the boundaries of our planet. More than the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landing which is this year. But as much as the hunger to explore and to be that adventurer that helps to shape that future for all of us, we have got to use technology to make sure that the earth is in the best shape it can ever be. Because wouldn’t it be such a shame if all of the best innovation and space science takes us to the moon, Mars and beyond and that technology wasn’t applied here on earth? I meet people all around the world, whether they are in the space sector or not. When you tell people that you’re doing something in space, they often ask me: ‘Do you mean space up there?’ That universal language of pointing up. What is up? What is space? And that is kind of the one thing that gets us all together. It is unifying.
One thing that universally unites us, wherever we are from in the world, is looking up at the night sky and seeing the moon and the stars.
Space to the people
There is a big ethical question around what we do in space. China is now back on the dark side of the moon, you have players like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk shaping the future whether it is for tourism or going back to Mars. We have space agencies, we have commercial companies, we’ve got agencies that represent nations; but who represents us? The people? I think this is the space that I want to reside in. The person in the middle of all of that. Over the last couple of years, this is where I found myself in the space sector. A sort of arriving, a sort of introducing myself, listening and learning and really trying to figure out where I’m best placed. I sat between design thinkers, space scientists and AI experts realising something is missing. Whether it’s a framework, whether it is a process, whether it is timing — all of the things we can’t control. There is a lot of energy behind space right now. It is one thing that it is in the public eye. We hear about rocket launches, but I think we have a chance to really make an impact but one that hopefully involves everybody in the conversation. Because whether you grew up in a country that has a space agency or not, you should still have an equal chance to be an astronaut. You shouldn’t have to be in the military or the airforce or a scientist. Everyone who wants to explore space or wants to see the earth from space. I feel that would ricochet with people on so many levels. Earth is really fragile. But is earth is fragile so is every other entity in our solar system an beyond. And I think we all have a chance to come together and really define what our impact is going to be as we take these steps forward. And that is something that drives me.
But who represents us in space? The people? I think this is the space that I want to reside in. The person in the middle of all of that. Over the last couple of years, this is where I found myself in the space sector.
As I said, it is just the beginning and timing wise, no one knows how long this is going to take. But it is about finding the right people to come together, ask the right questions to architects to gravitate the design and build. And guess what? I’m not a rocket scientist, and that is okay too! Because you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be in the space sector. And I’m definitely a testament for that, that we also need the engineers and the scientist tomorrow. There are so many grand challenges. Rockets are being built as part of the transportation systems. But what happens when we’re back at the surface of Mars? Are we gonna have bots? Or we gonna be building ourselves? There is a long seven months journey in a really isolated environment; are we thinking about the mental health of astronauts and explorers? Are we thinking about how we connect in the time difference when we send messages back to earth? We’re starting to ask those questions, but there is so much work that still needs to be done. And I think going between all of the random places I ended up in, hasn’t been an accident. I think that it is genuinely finding this flow of satiating my appetite for learning right now. And surrounding myself with people that are way smarter than me.
Space to me is about bringing people together across every boundary that we as humans have applied and defined and making sure that we are all connecting and that energies are aligning.
Beautifully diverse species
We vibe, and we learn from one and other. We listen to each other. Some of my favourite moments have been the conversations with people who I maybe not ever had to have the chance to listen to or meet. I think when you then go over and connect with someone on one little sentence that they might have mentioned, and you explain why it connected with you, that these are the things that make us human. These are the things that can never be replicated with technology. And that is what makes us such anomalies as humans; we are a beautiful species. However we evolve on other planets, or out of gravity here on earth, we’re still going to be intrinsically attached by DNA to a degree to that new shade of whatever kind of humanity we become. And that’s why I’m passionate about why this should be as diverse as possible. Because look around me here in London, there are 200 nations represented walking around, and that’s just the diversity of London. We need that in technology and in the conversations that we’re having to unlock that thing up there, that vastness that is infinite. What I have realised is that my life has always been about multidisciplinary environments. Just behind you is the Palace of Westminster; I worked in politics, I’ve worked on the Olympics, I’ve worked in tech, but I have been introducing myself in the space sector probably over the past 20 years in various shapes. From summer space school to where I’m at now, speaking at conferences and building networks of people that want to engage in the space sector and where we are going. While we’re talking about space, and it is kind of funny that the one I’m talking about is the one that is a hundred miles and beyond above us. Space to me is about bringing people together across every boundary that we as humans have applied and defined and making sure that we are all connecting and that energies are aligning.