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Boulder and Outer Space Have Long Been Connected

Boulder residents are seven times more likely to live near a rocket scientist than the average American

They may sound like they come from a galaxy far, far away, but news stories about outer space often have a Boulder connection.

This dates back to the founding of Ball Aerospace in 1956 in partnership with physicists from the University of Colorado. Ball began in a way that is similar to many Boulder entrepreneurial endeavors. Edmund Ball, who was looking to diversify the family's existing glass manufacturing business, met with CU physicist David Stacey over beers in a Chautauqua neighborhood. Their startup was incredibly successful, and the company celebrated its 60-year anniversary in 2016.Today, the Boulder area is home to 44 aerospace companies and our population includes nearly 5,000 people who work in the industry, boasting an employment concentration that is 11 times the U.S. average.

CU’s top-ranked aerospace education program dates even earlier than the creation of Ball Aerospace, with the founding of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) in 1948. LASP also predates NASA by a decade. It is the world’s only research institute to have sent instruments to all eight planets – and Pluto. Today, CU receives more NASA funding than any other public university. Given these close connections, it is unsurprising that more than 20 astronauts have been affiliated with CU, including hometown hero Scott Carpenter.

Ball was a key partner in all four of NASA's Great Observatories: the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. In the years since Ball’s founding, many local entrepreneurs have joined the field, supporting a rich local ecosystem in aerospace. Boulder area companies include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Sierra Nevada, Special Aerospace Services and Blue Canyon Technologies. And several of Boulder’s federally funded laboratories, NIST, NOAA and others are engaged in research directly tied to the local aerospace industry.

Given the history and current state of aerospace in Boulder, it should come as no surprise that Boulder residents are seven times more likely to live near a rocket scientist than the average American. So, the next time you’re getting the mail or pulling weeds, strike up a conversation with your neighbor. You never know who you might encounter – or where their adventures have taken them. 

This article originally appeared in the June/July issue of the city's Community Newsletter.