Byrne talks Orlando’s role in space program at Otronicon

Like so many other children growing up in Florida, Brendan Byrne had dreams of being an astronaut when he grew up.

Then, sixth-grade algebra happened.

But less-than-stellar math grades as a boy didn’t stop him from growing his passion, especially after his father took him to space camp at Kennedy Space Center.

Byrne, now 34, leads the popular space podcast “Are We There Yet?” for WMFE radio in Orlando.

“I think my boss was sick of me pitching space stuff for the daily newscast so she told me to start a podcast,” Byrne said. “I have always liked this stuff. It was after (space camp) that I really had a chance to hang with my dad and see his passion. It rubbed off on me.”

Byrne spoke at Orlando Science Center’s Science Night Live on Saturday, walking a packed auditorium through the latest developments in the space program’s search for life on other planets.

We caught up with him afterward and talked to him about his career, about the resurgence in space and Orlando’s role in that.

Q: Why has space made such a furious comeback in recent years?

A: The commercial space industry has completely changed the game. There is so much happening. It’s cheaper to get stuff into space and to get more access to space. That means more people, both commercially and scientifically, can get their stuff up there. The past 10 years have been incredible. From the first time we met at Kennedy Space Center (Editor’s Note: I covered the space industry for the ORlando Sentinel and Met Brendan on launches at Kennedy Space Center), we would never have imagined what’s going on now.

Q: How have you seen interest grow in Florida?

Especially in Florida, everybody is just genuinely curious about what’s happening. Space is universal. Everyone wants to understand their place. They want to know where they are, where they’re going and where they came from. What happens in space exploration gives us that answer. This room is filled more than it would have been five years ago. It’s because more people are curious about what’s happening. It’s super cool.

Q: How has Orlando played a role both in space history and in its present-day iteration?

Orlando’s foothold in tech and especially simulation and its role in military tech has played into some of the things that come out of the Space Coast. One of the driving factors is UCF’s rich history in space. It literally was where these NASA engineers went to school when it was Florida Technical Institute. Space and aerospace is the backbone of this local economy. Everything has stemmed out but our foundation is space exploration. Mercury, Gemini, Apollo missions, Orlando had a huge hand in that.

Q: We probably met in about 2015 or so, when I was covering space for the Orlando Sentinel. How would you characterize the speed at which the industry has grown since then?

A: At that time, the average person didn’t understand what was happening. We didn’t know what was going on. It was a tough sell to get our editors to pick up these stories. There is such a rich history here that we really should be asking the questions, “Are we there yet, where are we going and what’s happening?”

Q: That’s why you started the podcast?

A: It was super important because there is so much happening in our backyard that we really should understand what’s happening. It’s super cool to talk about. It’s one of the most fun beats to work just because it’s inspirational and aspirational. It’s just a really cool thing that’s happening.

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