A Space Talent Spotlight Series Interview with Millen Anand, Spacecraft Test Engineer at Planet, Former Matthew Isakowitz Fellow at Planet, and President of the Columbia Space Initiative
What is your background?
I graduated from Columbia in 2020 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering, and took a good amount of computer science courses as well. On campus, I was involved in the Columbia Space Initiative (CSI), leading NASA university challenges and serving as President of the club my junior year. My interest in space technology grew with my involvement in CSI, which combined technical aerospace projects with STEM outreach and NewSpace speaker events.
I sought internships that would expose me to as many sides of the space industry as possible, working at spacesuit startup Final Frontier Design, satellite tracking firm LeoLabs, and even at venture capital firm Space Capital. Most recently I interned as a Matthew Isakowitz Fellow at earth observation company Planet before starting in my current role as a Spacecraft Test Engineer at Planet.
What have been your top career accomplishments so far?
Looking back at my college experience, I’m most proud of the impact I had on the space community at Columbia. Many students come into college with a fascination with space yet exposure to the industry that doesn’t extend much further than NASA, defense contractors, and (recently) SpaceX. I believe organizing technical projects (including a New Shepard payload), site visits, speakers, and hackathons with NewSpace partners had a significant impact in expanding members’ horizons past existing industry players.
What were the critical steps/choices that helped you get ahead?
Challenging myself by stepping into roles that I haven’t fully been prepared for, whether it be in terms of technical skills or leadership, has resulted in some of the best learning experiences I have had. I’ve made mistakes, but have embraced those failures and grown as a result.
What part of your education had the most impact on your career?
The first principles I learned throughout my engineering education have shown up repeatedly in industry and have proved very valuable in approaching big technical challenges.
Outside of academics, working on technical projects as a student was incredibly valuable to accelerate my learning and have legitimate experience before even entering the workforce. I participated in NASA’s RASC-AL competition and got to travel to Cape Canaveral twice as a finalist to present design concepts to industry leaders. There are countless NASA-sponsored university challenges out there for students to participate in.
What about your career have you enjoyed the most and least?
I have been very fortunate to get to work with so many different facets of space technology early in my career. These diverse experiences have governed how I think about what I want to work on in the short and long term.
I haven’t enjoyed having to learn how to navigate bureaucracy and how much I have seen it exhibit itself in different organizations, but it has certainly been an important lesson to learn.
Where do you see the most promising career opportunities in the future?
I think the biggest opportunities lie in using space to improve everyday life on Earth. This is certainly already happening with downstream applications of technology such as GPS, earth observation, and communications, but I believe that these use cases of the orbital environment are still nascent and I am excited to see how the technologies of tomorrow change the world.
What advice/resources would you share with the next generation following a similar career path?
Whatever your skills, interests, and experience, there is a place for you in the space industry. As the field grows, new opportunities are always arising. Keep an eye out and don’t be afraid to embrace a new challenge.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I want to give a special shoutout to aerospace fellowship programs. I participated in the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship Program, which exposed me to an awesome group of similarly passionate people. Other aerospace fellowships include the Brooke Owens Fellowship and the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship, which I am a mentor for this year.
The Space Talent Spotlight is our blog series focused on the leaders and builders at the intersection of space and tech.The Space Talent Spotlight is our blog series focused on the leaders and builders at the intersection of space and tech.