Angel Abbud-Madrid first came into contact with Earth’s resources fresh out of college, as project engineer in a gold and silver mine in the Sierra Madre mountains of northern Mexico. Following his interest in space exploration, he moved to the U.S., where he got a Ph.D. and took part in a variety of projects conducted in NASA’s low-gravity laboratories.

A speaker at our previous Make + Believe Event, Angel is currently the Director of the Center for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines, where he leads research into space exploration and the utilization of its resources. Here we talk about Colorado’s massive aerospace economy and tap dancing “Fly Me to the Moon.”

What first captivated you about space when you were young?

I have always found it interesting that I was born in April of 1961, the month and year when humans first ventured into space. I guess the stars above were aligned and conspired to turn my thoughts to space at a very young age. And ever since my parents woke me up to watch the first humans walk on the Moon, my fascination with space exploration has not stopped.

Share a project that your team at the School of Mines is working on that excites you the most.

We are working on developing a technology to extract resources—such as water, carbon dioxide, and other elements—from asteroids. We use real meteorites as experimental samples; rocks that once were part of asteroids and that have come to us directly from space. It is truly exciting and mind-boggling to extract elements that have been trapped inside these rocks for billions of years, since the birth of our solar system.

What are some ways for people in the TEDxMileHigh community can interact more with the space industry?

Colorado has the second-largest aerospace economy in the nation. Eight of the nation’s top aerospace companies have significant operations in the state, there are more than 400 small companies working in this field, and its research institutes and universities are involved in some of the most exciting space projects and missions in the world. Whether you enjoy stargazing with powerful telescopes in local observatories, showing your kids the wonders of the universe in the many museums in the region, or learning about spacecraft made and operated in Colorado that are traveling to various destinations in the solar system, the Rocky Mountain region is the place to be for space exploration. In addition, living at more than 5,000 ft in altitude gives us the chance to be a mile closer to space.

What’s something few people know about you?

How about tap dancing … “Fly me to the Moon”?

What’s the last thing that made you laugh uncontrollably?

Remembering my dad giving me advice on how not to take yourself too seriously. He was a very funny and wise man.

When did you last make time for make-believe?

As a university professor, every day I have the unique opportunity to interact with students and to conduct science experiments. Education and science have the power to transform the make-believes of today into the realities of tomorrow.