10 power players in private space exploration that are revolutionizing the industry — that aren’t Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos

Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk

  • Mercedes LeGrand and Patrick Gray are managing directors at Raines International, a firm that recruits talent for the private space industry.
  • They compiled a list of the top 10 people in space exploration that people should know about.
  • The list includes business executives and entrepreneurs who have played key roles in their companies.

Aerospace industry advisors Mercedes LeGrand and Patrick Gray are managing directors at the executive search firm Raines International, one of the top search firms for the space industry. LeGrand and Gray have experience with a wide range of human space exploration companies including SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Lockheed, Northrop, and Boeing.

“In short, Patrick and I probably know the key people in the human space flight industry better than any other recruiters on the planet,” LeGrand told Insider.

The aerospace industry was worth $298 billion last year alone, and is expected to grow to $573 billion over the next decade. Insider tapped LeGrand and Gray for their picks of the top 10 movers and shakers in the space exploration industry. These are the people working often behind the scenes to help develop some of the latest innovations in private space exploration.

Sirisha Bandla

Sirisha Bandla

Name: Sirisha Bandla

Position: Head of Government Affairs, Virgin Galactic

Why are they on this list: Bandla’s recent spaceflight with Virgin’s founder, Richard Branson, makes her the second India-born woman in space. A former aerospace engineer, Sirisha now leads government affairs for Virgin Galactic, paving the way for Virgin and other space travel companies to bring humans beyond our planet.

Lisa Callahan

Name: Sirisha Bandla Position: Head of Government Affairs, Virgin Galactic Why are they on this list: Bandla's recent spaceflight with Virgin's founder, Richard Branson, makes her the second India-born woman in space. A former aerospace engineer, Sirisha now leads government affairs for Virgin Galactic, paving the way for Virgin and other space travel companies to bring humans beyond our planet. Lisa Callahan

Name: Lisa Callahan

Position: Vice President and General Manager, Commercial Space, Lockheed Martin

Why they’re on the list: With nearly three decades at Lockheed Martin, starting in training and now serving as VP and GM for commercial civil space, Callahan’s enthusiasm for the developments in and future of space shines through — especially as Lockheed partners with other space companies for NASA’s Artemis mission to bring humans back to the Moon. Callahan serves as a model for women in the industry and a champion of STEM education more broadly. She’s a force in the industry.

Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar

Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar

Name: Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar

Position: Executive Vice President of Government Affairs, Axiom Space

Why are they on the list: As a member of the White House’s National Space Council, FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Board, and a National Academies of Science Executive Committee member, Mary Lynne serves as an informal advisor to the senior-most leaders of NASA. She is a key influencer of US space policy. She is currently the Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at Axiom Space, a key partner to NASA’s Low Earth Orbit Commercialization strategy.

Tim Ellis, CEO and Cofounder, Relativity Space (former Blue Origin)Tim Ellis, co-founder and chief executive officer Relativity Space, speaks during the Satellite 2020 Conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, March 9, 2020. The event comprises important topics facing both satellite industry and end-users, and brings together a diverse group of thought leaders to share their knowledge. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Name: Tim Ellis

Position: CEO and Cofounder, Relativity Space

Why are they on the list: Likely one of the smartest people in the human space flight ecosystem today, Ellis is on a mission to totally disrupt rocket manufacturing and launch services. Relativity Space is driving innovation by 3D printing rockets and is building the first autonomous rocket factory and launch services for satellites. Ellis has been named to Time’s 100 Next, served as a Technology Pioneer with the World Economic Forum, and is an advisor to the White House via the National Space Council. He has come a long way since his early days building rockets at Blue Origin and spinning out of Y Combinator. His company, Relativity Space, is elevating the game for everyone.

Scott Henderson

Scott Henderson is the head of test and flight operations at Blue Origin. Scott Henderson

Name: Scott Henderson

Position: Vice President of Test and Flight Operations, Blue Origin

Why they’re on the list: While many talented executives at Blue Origin have flown the coop, Henderson is the exception, where he is the Vice President of the company’s test and flight operations. His service in the US Air Force — including as Space Launch Commander, 45th Launch Group — and early career experience at Raytheon and SpaceX, have provided Henderson with the right blend of engineering expertise and operational discipline to move the needle on human space flight.

Tim Hughes, Senior Vice President, Global Business and Head of Government Affairs, SpaceX

Tim Hughes was among SpaceX's first employees. Tom Williams

Name: Tim Hughes

Position: Senior Vice President, Global Business and Head of Government Affairs, SpaceX

Why they’re on the list: Hughes was among the first employees at SpaceX, having been recruited by Elon Musk directly in 2005, and has seen the company through its incredible trajectory from startup to arguably the most recognizable name in human space flight. Prior to SpaceX, Hughes, an attorney by training, drafted US legislation on human space flight. His background uniquely positioned him to ensure SpaceX could compete against entrenched incumbent, ULA. He is now focused on SpaceX’s expansion internationally.

Tom Markusic, CEO, Firefly Aerospace (former Virgin and Blue Origin)

Tom Markusic is the CEO of Firefly Aerospace Tom Markusic

Name: Tom Markusic

Position: CEO, Firefly Aerospace

Why they’re on the list: A rocket scientist out of Princeton, Markusic has contributed to the technological foundations of human space flight both in government and the private sector. Following on the heels of successful roles at pioneer companies SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, Markusic has founded his own launch vehicle company with an impressive board and solid financial backing. Firefly has a strong roster, big mission, and deserves to be ranked at the top of the space travel watch list.

Burt Rutan

Burt Rutan (left) is the founder of SCALED Composites, a developer of spacecrafts for some of the largest private space exploration companies. Associated Press

Name: Burt Rutan

Position: Founder, SCALED Composites

Why they’re on the list: The original Space Cowboy, Rutan has designed dozens of aircraft including the Voyager, the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, and SpaceShipOne, the first privately-owned aircraft in outer space. While technically retired, Burt still is active in the industry and has founded multiple aerospace companies including aerospace research company Scaled Composites (now owned by Northrop Grumman), Rutan Aircraft Factory, Mojave Aerospace Ventures (associated with Vulcan Aerospace and Virgin Galactic), and the Spaceship Company (now Virgin Galactic). Rutan is a lecturer and member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Gwynne Shotwell

Gwynne Shotwell

Name: Gwynne Shotwell

Position: President and COO, SpaceX

Why they’re on the list: Shotwell is the engine behind SpaceX, which she joined as the 11th employee, and the force that has turned Musk’s bodacious vision into a reality. One of Forbes’ Top 50 Most Powerful Women in the World and Times’ 100 Most Influential People, Shotwell’s outgoing nature and legit engineering chops have been the differentiator that allows SpaceX to execute on its ambitious goals when its peers could not.

Mark Sirangelo

Mark Sirangelo has been are the forefront of pushing commercial space travel

Name: Mark Sirangelo

Position: Entrepreneur, Scholar in Residence, University of Colorado

Why they’re on the list: One of the original pioneers of human space travel, Sirangelo has been at forefront of the push to make commercial space travel viable since the beginning. He developed and led the creation of Sierra’s Dream Chaser program, which was conceived as the first crewed private space vehicle to travel into (suborbital) space. He’s been intimately involved and influential in the human space flight ecosystem and has served in various high-profile positions including the head of Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems and the chariman and CEO of SpaceDev, Inc.

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